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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax: The Big Four

Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Anthrax: The Big Four
2010, WB Records

Metallica.  Slayer.  Megadeth.  Anthrax.

These four bands, dubbed The Big Four, are the foundation of thrash metal and all of the musical tendrils that have shot fourth from the movement born in the 1980's.  Despite their shared roots, it wasn't until the summer of 2010 when the four bands actually shared the same stage for a string of seven European concert dates.  One of those dates, a June 22, 2010 concert is Sofia, Bulgaria was beamed to movie theaters across Europe and around the United States in high definition, providing an opportunity for those who would never dream of making the trans-Atlantic trip a chance to be a part of history.  On November 2, 2010, Warner Brothers Records releases a 3-DVD/Blueray set of the show as well as a limited edition package that captures both the video and complete audio of the show (on 5CDs) with extras.  To put it bluntly, The Big Four is your favorite metal head's dream come true. 

The first DVD in the set covers Anthrax (CD1), Megadeth (CD2) and Slayers (CD3).  Each set is approximately one hour and features some of the best known hits from each band.  Each set features some of the best known songs of each band delivered in high definition with blistering sound.  Anthrax lets loose with tracks such as "Caught In A Mosh", "Antisocial", "Only" and "I Am The Law", as well as a cover of Joe Jackson's "Got The Time".  Megadeth steps up with "Holy Wars...Punishment Due", "Hangar 18", "Head Crusher", "Trust", "Sweating Bullets" And "Symphony Of Destruction", amongst others.  Slayer blows what's left of the roof off with hits such as "Jihad", "War Ensemble", "Angel Of Death", ""Chemical Warfare" and the Grammy nominated "Disciple".

The second DVD (CD4 and CD5) feature the masters of metal themselves, Metallica.  The headliners of the show are bit more clean cut than they were back in the 1980's, and age may have mellowed their respective personas, but on-stage they still rock out like nobody's business.  Hits such as "Creeping Death", "Heavers Of Sorrow", "Cyanide" and "Sad But True" are worth every penny, but as Metallica enters the second half of their set they raise their game.  The version of "One" offered here is absolutely classic, with all of the raw energy that exploded from the original.  "Master Of Puppets" likewise seems to find the band recapturing their glory days.  "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman" don't seem as out of place in the catalogue as they did upon their initial release and the closing triumvirate of "Am I Evil?", "Hit The Lights" and "Seek And Destroy" simply are not for the faint of heart.

The Big Four preserves an once-in-a-lifetime concert in high definition video and sound.  Folks who missed the thrash metal movement may not get it, but there isn't a band working today who refers to themselves as heavy metal or something-core who doesn't owe their livelihoods to at least one of the four bands featured.  Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax all helped build the foundations for thrash metal, but it was Metallica that turned thrash metal into an international conspiracy that was accessible to more traditional music fans by building the bridge that helped the form cross over into the mainstream with their ground-breaking The Black Album.  Hard core fans will have to have the "Super Deluxe" box set, which includes the DVDs, 5 CDs capturing the complete audio of the show, a 24-page book, a poster, band photos and a collectable guitar pick.  Whichever way you go, you'll be purchasing a record of rock history.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Metallica at  Learn more about Megadeth at  Learn more about Slayer at  Learn more about Anthrax at The Big Four drops on November 2, 2010.  You can order the set on DVD, Blu-Ray, or as the Super Deluxe Box Set from

Michelle Anthony - Tornadoes

Michelle Anthony - Tornadoes
2010, Merctwyn Records

Kansas City native and current Austin, Texas resident Michelle Anthony returns on November 2, 2010 with her third album, Tornadoes.  Inspired by the new perspectives brought on by motherhood and surviving a near-death experience, Anthony writes autobiographically and in surprisingly positive turns on Tornadoes.  Joined by drummer John Chipman (Band Of Heathens); lead guitarist Grant Tye (Robbie Fulks), Gerald Dye (Robbie Fulks) and Justin Roberts, Anthony has managed to craft her most mature and enthralling work to date.

Tornadoes opens with "Spare Me" a snappy pop tune with wonderful drive and feel.  Anthony's reserved also delivery works well with a message that says it's not as much about what you say in a relationship as how you say it.  This is a great start for the album.  "Tornadoes" explores live upheavals and the periods of peace that follow in a great adult contemporary rock arrangement.  "Permanent" is a soulful adult pop lullaby about the richness of love when it is a real.  The song has a smooth, intellectual depth and striking pop sensibility, and was written for Anthony's newborn son.  Anthony goes for a lush sound with country accents on "Black Coal Heart".  It's not the best songwriting on the album but Anthony paints a pretty aural landscape worth hearing.

"Vacancy" takes a darker turn, taking a look at a side of city life that some never see.  Anthony paints pictures in words and in the charismatic arrangement that freeze time and place even if for a moment.  "Beautiful" is a celebratory love song that finds Anthony working at the edge of her vocal comfort zone; Michelle Anthony shows a few cracks here but the song is very well-written.  "January Singers" has its own distinct cadence.  Anthony sounds nice here, but the song calls for a more dynamic vocal line than she can muster.  Instead Anthony's voice is wrapped up in a wall of sound with her voice buried a bit too far in the mix.  "Don't Deny" shows off Anthony's more pop-oriented side in a catchy rocker before moving into the abstract melancholy of "Yellow Harmony".  Soaked with a sweet melody, "Yellow Honey" is a love song sung from a distance.  Anthony closes with "Lights Of Chicago", a dark and mysterious tune that once again finds Michelle Anthony sounding quite nice, but which seems somewhat out of place on Tornadoes.

Michelle Anthony has an appealing voice within a limited range, and manages quite nicely on much of Tornadoes.  Anthony's songwriting runs from the intellectual folk of Shawn Colvin to the hard-won pop of Sheryl Crow.  When Anthony strays from her comfort zone things don't work quite as well, leaving her voice exposed to its own limitations.  Anthony's choices on Tornadoes are almost always good ones, however, and the album succeeds as a pleasant if occasionally distant collection of songs in the singer/songwriter tradition.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about or on FacebookTornadoes drops on CD on November 2, 2010, but is already available as a download from and iTunes.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gangstagrass feat. T.O.N.E.z. - Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On the Mic

Gangstagrass feat. T.O.N.E.z. - Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On the Mic
2010, Rench Audio

Sometimes the greatest strokes of genius aren't truly original thoughts, but new ways of seeing things we already know.  Computer in a phone come to mind? How about peanut butter and chocolate?  Brooklyn singer/songwriter/producer Rench was at such a crossroads in the summer of 2007.  After spending years creating his own blend of trip-hop and honky-tonk for years Rench wanted to go a bit deeper.  The result was a free compilation called Gangstagrass: Volume 1, blending hip-hop beats and rhymes with bluegrass samples.  The reaction was electric, and Rench was asked to write a them to the new FX show Justified in the same vein.  Rench teamed up with Bronx rapper T.O.N.E-z, the younger brother of Special K (Treacherous Three) and T La Rock to write and record "Long Hard Times To Come", this time using real instrumentalists rather than samples.  The effort was so rewarding that it has inspired an entire album, simply entitled Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic.

Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic opens with "That's Right I'm Good", a delightful blend of gangsta rap and bluegrass full of braggadocio, hot licks and an incessant beat you can't help but want to dance to.  "I'm Gonna Put You Down" explores the intersection of Christian thought and gangsta culture, showing apparent incompatibilities as sometimes surprising points of potential growth.  "Trouble Everywhere I Go" finds T.O.N.E-z at his rhyming best, and the backing vocals included here are amazing.  "Click Ol' Gun" allows the instrumentalists to run away with the show for a few minutes, adding a distinctive zest to bluegrass runs with vibrant hip-hop beats.

"I Go Hard" might carry a double meaning for T.O.N.E-z, crafting an image of danger while implying a ruthless ambition in the pursuit of dreams.  T.O.N.E-z is at his fiery best here, and the trio of Matt Check (banjo); Todd Livingston (dobro) and Jason Cade (fiddle) match him step-for-step.  "Nobody Gonna Miss Me" explores the path of a lone wolf in a world that values conformity.  Gangstagrass and T.O.N.E-z have been building toward an apex from the beginning, and it arrives in this moment blending brilliant rhymes, a stunning arrangement and absolutely inspired musicianship.  "In My Aching Heart Shadows Linger" is a song of longing and remembrance; an emotional moment amongst the complex, shifting emotions that flow throughout the album.  "My Enemies Lay Beneath The Prairie" is one last chance for Gangstagrass to show off their instrumental chops; a dizzying affair that will have you dancing and wondering what just hit you.  Lighting On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic closes with "Put Your Hands Up High"; a feel good closer that's over the top.  T.O.N.E-z rhymes like he believes he's Superman, and he's so good he makes you want to believe.

In an era where the lines between musical genres blend and blur every day it's not surprising that someone got around to mixing bluegrass and hip-hop.  What is amazing is how splendidly well-done Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic truly is.  Gangstagrass, as an instrumental group could walk into almost any venue in Nashville and be welcome.  T.O.N.E-z plays off the disparity in styles, blending brilliant rhymes into the Appalachian mix like he was born to do nothing less.  Gangstagrass is one of the most innovative albums of 2010.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5) 

Learn more about Gangstagrass at or  Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic is available from as a CD and Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

Jeff Cochell - Between The Lines

Jeff Cochell - Between The Lines
2009, Jeff Cochell

Portland, Oregon guitarist/singer/songwriter Jeff Cochell was first influenced by the work of Bob Dylan and Jimmy Page.  Somewhere along the way he discovered Lindsay Buckingham and Leo Kottke, and dove headfirst into the study of Fingerstyle guitar.  Cochell has become a phenom with the six string; his art clearly apparent throughout his debut album, Between The Lines.

Between The Lines is a confounding albumJeff Cochell is obviously very talented on the guitar, a notable point all throughout the album.  As much as Cochell excels as a guitar player and composer, as a lyricist he is often awkward in his phrasing, seeking out ham-handed lines that simple do not flow.  Cochell is at his best in "My Back's Against The Wall", using vocal harmonies to effectively mask a lack of vocal discipline that often leads to being off pitch while delivering the most cogent lyrics on the album.  "Somewhere" stresses Cochell's strengths as a guitarist in a stirring instrumental piece you'll find yourself listening to again and again.     Throughout much of the rest of Between The Lines Cochell mixes solid musical offerings with less than spectacular vocals and lyrics.

Jeff Cochell has a real ear as a writer and instrumentalist, and it's clear that in the right arrangement with a carefully chosen vocal line Cochell can sound quite good, but his fumbling lyrical sense is a definite disadvantage.  Working with someone for a more natural poetic proclivity may yield an impressive trove of songs as well as sparking the sort of constructive tension that can elevate good songwriting to great.  Between The Lines shows the seeds of musical success, but work needs to be done and Cochell may need to collaborate to realize the best of his talents.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Jeff Cochell at or   Between The Lines is available from as a CD or DownloadThe album is also available digitally from iTunes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eight Feet Deep - Eight Feet Deep

Eight Feet Deep - Eight Feet Deep
2010, Eight Feet Deep

Eight Feet Deep represents the musical collaboration of Billy “Pills” Fridrich and Mike DiMeo.  Fridrich, a veteran of New York area bands Celestial, HeavySurf and No Excuses, plays rhythm, lead and bass guitars as well programming the drum tracks and writing lyrics.  Mike DiMeo, former lead singer of the bands Riot and Masterplan has gained a reputation as one of the most accomplished and soulful vocals in heavy rock.  Earlier this year Fridrich and DiMeo released their debut EP together, also entitled Eight Feet Deep. 

Eight Feet Deep opens with “Leader”, a riff-filled blend of hair metal and classic rock.  Fridrich’s shows off strong guitar work in a somewhat abstract take on the concept that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’.  The song is a bit referential lyrically without providing the perspective that illuminates meaning.  “Throw Down” has an almost stream-of-consciousness feel to the lyrics.  It’s a driven, enjoyable rocker that falls into the same trap as “Leader”.  “No Regrets” is about growing up and gaining perspective on experiences, judging the whole by the outcome of the moment.   Eight Feet Deep closes with “My Friend”, a plodding and top-heavy song that never manages to take flight.

 Across the first three songs on Eight Feet Deep the duo of Fridrich and DiMeo show themselves quite capable of writing rocking tunes that blend the best of 1980’s hair metal and classic rock in highly consumable rock n roll.  Fridrich never rests with a guitar in his hand, creating musical mayhem seemingly at will, and DiMeo’s reputation as a singer is well-earned.  His voice is a bit reminiscent of Klaus Meine (minus the accent), and he can go from a whisper to a scream in a heartbeat, covering all of the vocal ground in between.  There is a classic feel to the first three songs on Eight Feet Deep that simply can’t be ignored.  They are so well done that they make the final track bearable.  Eight Feet Deep are proving that rock n roll isn’t dead.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Eight Feet Deep at or  Eight Feet Deep is available as a digital EP from Eight Feet Deep and iTunes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tim O'Connell - It's My Song, Dammit!

Tim O'Connell - It's My Song, Dammit!
2010, Tall Man Records

Tim O’Connell has been a songwriter living on the fringes of Nashville since the 1970’s.  O’Connell is perhaps not well known amongst the Music Row establishment, but he was good enough to gain the attention of Johnny Cash.  A version of O’Connell’s “A Singer Of Songs” appeared on the Cash Unearthed box set not long after his death.  The song was written by a 29-year old O’Connell and showed a maturity and depth surprising for his stage of life at the time.  O’Connell has continued to mine the highways and byways of middle Tennessee for inspiration, and returned earlier this year with his latest album, It’s My Song, Dammit!

O’Connell opens with “Without You” a simplistic run of similes that expresses what a lost cause he is without the love of his life.  It’s a cute tune in an early country/folk arrangement with an almost conversational singing style.  “Little Radio”  is a bluesy rocker all about the inspiration for O’Connell’s muse.  It’s an entertaining tune, and while O’Connell doesn’t have the prettiest voice, it’s full of character and O’Connell always seems to sing from the heart.  “Talking ‘Bout Love” is a good nature love song, an old-school duet with the incomparable Jill Walsh.  “Us Old Folks At Home” displays an old school family attitude about a miscreant child.  There’s a touch of humor here balanced with a touch of disgust; an entirely human and vaguely crotchety feel that’s entertaining. 

“This Must Be Love” is a straightforward and simplistic love song with a classic feel.  “Thank You For Being A Friend” and “There’s Nothing You Can Do” have similar feels, dealing with friendship and the inevitability of love, respectively.  “The Righteous Road” is a dynamic gospel tune with a non-traditional perspective.  The song is irreverently reverent; fun and entertaining and dancing on the slippery line between misunderstanding and well-intended blasphemy.  O’Connell closes with the anti-climactic “its Hard To Believe That It’s Over”.

Tim O’Connell is certainly an accomplished songwriter.  Writing from the heart, honesty and integrity of thought and emotion inform O’Connell’s songs throughout It’s My Song, Dammit!  Even where O’Connell doesn’t quite manage to connect it’s certainly not for questions of heart.  It’s My Song, Dammit! Is a solid singer/songwriter album, worth spending a little time on.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Tim O’Connell at  It’s My Song, Dammit! is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available via iTunes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Nautics - Black Light Doves

The Nautics - Black Light Doves
2010, The Nautics

The Nautics are a family band from Medford, Oregon, blasting out of the northwest with a vital surf-guitar sound heavily influenced by The Ventures, The Beatles and The Stray Cats.  Mike Seus (guitar/vox); Joe Seus (drums); Matt Seus (bass) and Paul Seus (lead guitar) coalesced over the course of a couple of years, but play as if destined to work together from the start.  The Nautics recently released their debut album Black Light Doves, an intriguing blend of surf, classic and modern rock.

Black Light Doves opens with the title track, a catchy pop song in the 1960’s style lamenting loss.  This, surprisingly, is a highly danceable number with tremendous pop sensibility.  Mike Seus has a great rock voice; not necessarily the prettiest one out there but full of character and he transitions well between chest voice and falsetto voice.  “Save Your Money” is a fun, danceable tune, maintaining the vibe until The Nautics roll out “Quarterlife Crisis”.  Full of angst and melancholy, there is nonetheless a tongue-in-cheek quality to the unrequited love song that you can’t ignore.  “The Sobbing Truth” is catchy surf-guitar rock, perhaps a continuation of the storyline from “Quarterlife Crisis”.  Halfway through and The Nautics are looking strong.

And sometimes a band would be better off stopping at an EP.

The rest of the material on Black Light Doves is sufficient, but doesn’t grab the listener the way The Nautics managed on the first half of the album.  “Sweetheart With The Strawberry Hair” starts the second half on a promising note; a catchy rock tune that will get stuck in your brain, but thereafter the songwriting is uninspired and mundane.  It’s very clear that the Seus can play and even have a talent for writing catchy rock/pop tunes, but in this case the allure of releasing a full length album brought the inclusion of a selection of songs of uneven quality.  I have no doubt that some of the less inspiring material here may work better on stage, but the second half of the album in particular just comes off flat.  Nevertheless, there's enough good music here to make the album worth checking out, and to postulate a bright future for The Nautics.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Nautics at or Light Doves is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Patrick Hammond - Only If You Can Hear Me

Patrick Hammond - Only If You Can Hear Me
2010, Talkback Records

Forest Grove, Oregon's Patrick Hammond looks like a movie star and sings like a cross between Isaac Slade (The Fray) and Gavin DeGraw.  These qualities combined with solid songwriting skills and easy-going airs are why Hammond's debut album, Only If You Can Hear Me is gaining so much attention from radio and media outlets.  Due out October 26, 2010, Only If You Can Hear Me is a pure pop/soul blend primarily driven by Hammond's piano playing and a strong melodic sense.  Hammond might have gotten involved in music for easy grades in high school, but his talent has seen him rise far beyond his earliest ambitions.

Only If You Can Hear Me opens with “Mr. Deception”, in intriguing musical monologue that finds Hammond’s character boldly honest about his intentions and shortcomings.  This is a great piano-driven tune, with Hammond’s vocals aligned perfectly with both the song and its heart.  “The World Today” is a forthright pop ballad lamenting the ‘all for yourself’ mentality of society and features Nathan Botsford.  It’s a decent tune with heart.  “30 Days” documents one man’s relationship gauntlet by which he judges the future of any relationship he’s in.  The vaguely dysfunctional perspective given here is entirely human and is offered in an open, appealing arrangement with a melody you’ll remember.  “Heart Attack” is a swarthy pop song about staying in control of your emotions; Hammond is more focused on substance that image here and in the process displays a gripping pop sensibility. 

“The Garden” sounds like a star crush in song, with Hammond obsessing over a singer on-stage and capturing that moment of infatuation and awe perfectly.  On “Put Me Down” Hammond offers an incredibly soulful in a highly emotive and personal performance.  Hammond gives a commanding performance here.  “The Initiative” shows that sometimes reaching out is all it takes.  This heart-melter is a big-time pop ballad with real chart potential.  “Take Hold” is a Christian-themed pop tune about taking ownership of what you think and believe.  Hammond is as solid is ever, and is joined here in the vocal duet by the beautiful voiced Sunita Thannickal.  “Farewell” is a solid song of love and remembrance, a nice set-up for the bonus track “She Dances Her Demons Away”.  This last is a personal and raw affair; just Hammond and his guitar, but has a killer melody and will get stuck in your skull. 

Patrick Hammond delivers a boatload of positively themed rock and pop on Only If You Can Hear Me.  Hammond writes from his well of belief, which happens to be modeled from a Christian perspective, but only one song here is overtly so.  The rest of the time its simply Hammond’s thoughts, beliefs and character shaping messages about life that are ecumenical and filled with heart.  The songwriting on Only If You Can Hear Me is solid throughout, and Hammond delivers each tune with a depth of personality and command that will make him lots of fans on stage.  This is an extremely promising start to a career.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about Patrick Hammond at If You Can Hear Me is available digitally through iTunes.  If you're looking for a CD, send a message to Patrick Hammond through his MySpace page.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Parties - Coast Garde

The Parties - Coast Garde
2010, Rainbow Quartz Records

San Francisco has a history of turning out epic rock bands with distinctive sounds.  The city has been a breeding ground of musical influences since the 1960’s and continues to produce an impressive crop of artists.  The latest band to emerge from the Bay is The Parties, who take their influences from 1960’s bands such as The Who, Kinds and Velvet Underground, The High Dials and Teenage Fanclub.  The Parties drop their latest album, Coast Garde, on November 2, 2010.  They will playing material from their new album at the Rainbow Quartz CMJ showcase tonight at Local 269, located at 269 East Houston in New York City.

Coast Garde opens with “Let’s Call It Love”, a near-perfect example of pure 1960’s pop.  The song features a wide-open arrangement, delicious melody and enveloping vocal harmonies.  Vocalist Jeremy Powers has a solid, distinctive voice that speaks in low tones.  He won’t blow you away but delivers solid, measured performances that work perfectly in the frame of music The Parties create.  “Can’t Seem To Get My Mind Off Of You” is pure Crosby, Stills and Nash-style songwriting and harmonies.  “The Target Smiles” is a solid tune; sounding like something the Beatles might have written in a country & western phase of their career had it lasted longer.  “Leavin’ The Light On” is about the split that occurs when you get what you wish for but not what you want; it’s the catchiest song on the album and has an blend that sounds like something that might have come from a jam session between 54-40 and Wilco.

“Suite: Feet Back On The Ground/I’m Sorry/Going Away Girl” blends the sounds of Traffic and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The songwriting here is top notch, particular “Going Away Girl” which dances on the edge of utter pop brilliance.  “Autumn Girl” slows things down with a country feel, juxtaposing a hopeful, bright vocal line against a melancholy arrangement.  “Annie” and “Catastrophic Storm” are solid album tracks, setting the stage for “You Ruined Me”.  “You Ruined Me” is the best pop song on the album.  Sadness abounds in a Beatles-esque pop tune laced with country accents.  This is an addictive tune, a real wow moment that could break out big for The Parties.

Rainbow Quartz has a number of bands reveling in the sounds of the 1960’s and doing it quite well.  The cream of the crop is The Parties, who blend a mellifluous sense of melody with distinctive harmonies and a rare sort of pop sensibility that’s music gold. Coast Garde has its slow moments, but has several tunes that could be hits in almost any era if commercial radio were actually accessible.  The Parties are not a band to take lightly; they’ll be around for awhile.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about The Parties at or at Rainbow Quartz RecordsCoast Garde drops on November 2, 2010.  You can pre-order the CD from  Expect wider availability, including digital formats, upon release.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Sails - A Headful Of Stars

The Sails - A Headful Of Stars
2010, Rainbow Quartz Records

London rockers The Sails have generated a lot of buzz on the Eastern side of the Atlantic with a sound that blends 1960’s British Invasion melodicism and an alternative rock edge.  Front man Michael Gagliano (late of Epic) and a cast of rotating musicians bring a sound that’s been lauded both here and abroad.  The Sails land in New York City tonight at the Rainbow Quartz CMJ Showcase at Local 269 at 269 East Houston Street in Manhattan, in support of their album A Headful Of Stars. 

A Headful Of Stars opens with “I’m Only Bleeding”, a brilliant piece of pop songwriting with garage/psych qualities.  You’ll think you’ve been translated to the days of the original British Invasion and that The Sails were on the first boat to land (figuratively).  The song is chock full of tremendous vocal harmonies and a great pop hook, all delivered in a wall of sound that will bowl you over.  “Travel” is a dynamic sonic exploration full of far-Eastern influences in the style of George Harrison; the song is lyric and full of gorgeous harmonies.  “In My Head” goes for the throat with a big sound and a melody that will sing itself into your ears.  “Health Insecurities Limited” has a messy Beatles aesthetic going on; distinctive melody in a solid arrangement that’s just a big smudgy in the seams.  “Yesterday & Today” sounds like what might have happened if Roger McGuinn sat in on guitar with The Beatles; an unusual sound that’s highly appealing.  The Sails close out with “The Drunken Love Song”, a solid closer that cements A Headful Of Stars in its sonic surrealism.

The Sails create a sonic wonderland on A Headful Of Stars, reminiscent of the great Brit Invasion bands with a leaner, meaner alt-rock feel.  The sound is timeless and the songwriting itself is solid.  Even on the few occasions where the songwriting is bit more mundane, the sound is so engaging you won’t care.  Don’t be surprised if The Sails take America by storm.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out Of 5)

Learn more about The Sails at or Rainbow Quartz RecordsA Headful of Stars is available from as a CD or Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

The High Dials - Anthems For Doomed Youth

The High Dials - Anthems For Doomed Youth
2010, Rainbow Quartz Records

Montreal rockers The High Dials return on November 2, 2010 with their fifth album for Rainbow Quartz records, Anthems For Doomed Youth.  They’ll be showing off their music tonight at the Rainbow Quartz CMJ showcase along with Broadfield Marchers, Capstan Shafts, The Volebeats, The Parties and The Grip Weeds.  Anthems For Doomed Youth contains the sort of swirling guitar sound and distinctive melodies you’d expect to hear if R.E.M. had come together in the early 1960’s. 

Anthems For Doomed Youth opens with “Teenage Love Made Me Insane”, a catchy, vibrant piece of hippy psych/pop that you won’t be able to get out of your head.  The pop energy in this time is likely to consume you.  “I’m Over You (I Hope It’s True)” is catchy, jangly pop in the style of REM but with a 1960’s feel.  “Chinese Boxes” uses doubled vocals, a strong melody and excellent pacing to deliver a pop/Americana feel, 1960’s style, sounding like something that might have come from a jam session between REM and Tom Petty. 

The High Dials, unfortunately, seem to run out of gas halfway through Anthems For Doomed Youth.  The sound remains the same, but the songwriting on the second half of the album is uninspired; an instance where an okay album might have made a really good EP.  Nevertheless, there is a distinctive sound on Anthems For Doomed Youth that will draw a lot of people in, and that gives distinctive hope for The High Dials’ musical future.

Rating: 2.5 Stars (Out of 5)

 Learn more about The High Dials at or  Anthems For Doomed Youth drops November 2, 2010.  Pre-orders are available from on CD and Vinyl.  Expect wider availability in both traditional and digital formats.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Steven Page - Page One

Steven Page - Page One
2010, Anthem/Zoe/Rounder Records

The past eighteen months have been a real-life roller coaster for Steven Page.  The former Barenaked Ladies co-founder, vocalist and songwriter has lived through legal troubles, relationship upheavals and well-publicized schism with his former band mates.  Longtime fans of Steven Page and Barenaked Ladies tend to have highly polarized thoughts on the matter, but there's little doubt that Page's voice is one of the most distinctive in pop music over the past two decades.  Page has done well for himself in the days since the breakup, reinventing himself as an artist and recapturing his love of songwriting and performing with the newfound freedom and lack of a safety net implicit in being a solo artist.  Earlier this year Page released The Art Of Time Project, a collection of classic cover tunes done with classical instrumentation and Page's iconic vocals, but you just knew it wouldn't be long until Page came back with original material.  This week Page released his third solo album, Page One, leaving behind some of the cynical darkness that marked his later work with Barenaked Ladies.

Page One opens with “A New Shore”, a bright and airy tune about starting over.  Page brings the same pop sensibility that characterizes his previous work but with a more orchestral feel.  Page explores hope as a new concept after coming through dark times and finding life and love again in a solid and promising opener.  “Indecision” is delicious pop; sounding like the Beatles if they’d broken out two decades later.  The song has a classic bachelor theme: the inability to commit or decide.  Page takes a brave step in acknowledging his legal issues from 2009 in oblique terms, capturing the larger picture that may have been missed in the press at the time.  Page manages to turn lemons into pop lemonade with subtly pointed self-commentary.

“Entourage” takes on the societal obsession with celebrity culture in biting and satiric terms.  This is classic page, sounding purely reverent on the surface while ripping and shredding in the seams.  It’s a great song.  “Marry Me” is a new wave love song with a classic chorus right down to the sha-la-la’s in the backing vocals.  Page takes on the conundrum of two individuals who march to their own drummer yet find themselves in love just like everyone else in a wondrous pop arrangement.  “All The Young Monogamists” could either be a prologue or epilogue to “Marry Me”.  Opening in baroque musical stylings, “All The Young Monogamists” illuminates the love story of two jaded souls who have been around the block and made their mistakes, promising to be true while acknowledging that it’s not in their nature.  Page again hits multiple levels in song, expressing the intent to love forever while acknowledging the underlying imperfection of humanity that sends best intentions awry.  The arrangement here is nothing short of brilliant.

“She’s Trying To Save Me” gets into the sort of zany darkness seen in Page’s best material with Barenaked Ladies.  Page gets a songwriting assist from Stephen Duffy here, and the pop sensibility is through the roof.  This one is ripe picking for a soundtrack, as the theme might be very appealing for a motion picture, and the song might be the most radio-ready on the album.  Page explores depression and self-destructive tendencies within a relationship in “Over Joy”, telling his beloved to let him go as she’ll be better off.  It’s a remarkably mature bit of songwriting; something Page has shown a touch for in the past but perhaps never quite so cogently as here.  The melody is memorable and the hook in the chorus will keep you coming back.  Page has a great sense of theater as well, completely changing Page One’s tone with the snarky dance tune “If You Love Me”.  The theme here is ignoring all of the damage and destruction in an individual or relationship and simply being in a moment.  It’s a fun, emotionally dysfunctional tune that’s either extremely tongue-in-cheek or an outward expression of sociopathology in song.

“Leave Her Alone” finds Page intersecting two generations of music and ideals while exploring the clash of an older generation who grew up by getting out of home as soon as they could and contrasting it with today when kids return home after school and stay.  The big band jazz opening cedes to rock n roll in the bridge and chorus with a transition that happens so fast and so clean you might not notice it right away.  “Leave Her Alone” takes a laissez-fair attitude, a sort of “everyone finds their own path in their own time” concept drenched in a brilliant melody and arrangement.  Page vamps like a Vegas pro and gets a big assist from Prince’s NPG horn section.  “Queen Of America” feels a bit like an incomplete thought, but manages to convey the importance of breaking out of conformity and being yourself.  The song is delivered in 1960’s pop style with a mild techno beat.  Page One closes with “The Chorus Girl”, a bit of mellow musical détente about dreams and directions to come in a dreamy pop moment that shows off Page’s more lyric side. 

Stephen Page rediscovers his love of making music on Page One.  There is fluidity to the songwriting here that will be recognizable to fans of his early work with Barenaked Ladies.  Page has grown up both personally and musically over the years, but the sense of musical spontaneity that makes Page great is back.  The over-arching sense of darkness in Page’s later BNL work has been tempered here with humor and grand melodicism; the result is more balanced songwriting that is mature, reflective and laced with wit. The voice that makes Steven Page instantly recognizable is still here and still as dynamic and wonderful as ever.  Page gets songwriting assists from Stephen Duffy and Craig Northey (The Odds).  Musical assists come from Will Owsley, Esthero, Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket), Dorian Crozier (The Rembrandts, Pink, Miley Cyrus, Celine Dion) and others. Page One is a declaration of independence and a brilliant step forward for Steven Page.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Steven Page at, or  You can order multiple formats of Page One from  The album is available as a CD or Download from  A digital version is also available from iTunes.

Susan Anders - Swimmer

Susan Anders - Swimmer
2010, Zanna Discs

Berkeley, California native Susan Anders grew up on the grounds of musical revolution.  It was never a question of whether Anders would be a performer but more of when and where.  As a songwriter, Anders' songs have been recorded by the Four Bitchin’ Babes, Jordan Carter and The Irrationals, among others.  As the front woman for Susan's Room, Anders releases five albums in the last decade of the twentieth century.  In 2002, Anders moved to Nashville with husband/guitarist/producer Tom Manche, and released her debut solo album Release in 2005.  In the mean time she's done work as a vocal coach, working with Rose MacGowan, Joey Heatherton and Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott.  On October 26, 2010, Anders releases her sophomore solo effort, Swimmer.

Swimmer opens with "Thirsty", a brilliant bit of pop songwriting laced with a soulful vocal line.  Susan Anders' voice is untrained and full of character; esoteric and interesting.  Anders sounds like she's riding right on the edge of going off key at times but never stumbles, but it all works incredibly well on "Thirsty".  This is a song that in the right hands would be climbing the pop charts.  "I Want I Want" documents Anders' insatiable nature in a straightforward tune with a nice melody that is nice but feels a bit cliché.  "Love Beats Time" is a solid love song that's aurally pleasing but doesn't really stand out.  Anders dips into the well of brilliance again for "Always A Beginner", an edgy tune with both jazz and blues in its roots.  It's about a lost soul who's always getting tossed about by the waves of life. 

"I Can't Fix You" is a song of realization sung with a loving melancholy and resignation.  Anders offers some sweet country accents in a solid arrangement that is sure to please.  "Get To You" is highly emotive; the utter weight of the tune weighs it down despite some indications of pop sensibility in the arrangement.  "Box Of Mom" is a great memorial/ode to mom and the ways she made life special; the song is catchy and sweet and could become a favorite for mother's day.  Anders closes with "Forgiveness", a bluesy tune that's more about composition than story-telling.  Anders' melody is memorable, and it's a solid bow for Swimmer.

Susan Anders offers up a solid effort on Swimmer.  There are definitely some down moments on the album, but then Anders shows occasional flashes of utter brilliance as a songwriter.  As a vocalist Anders may be an acquired taste, but she gives solid and impassioned readings of her song that are charming and appealing in their own right

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Susan Anders at or at Zanna Discs or  Swimmer drops on October 26, 2010.  You can order the CD from Zanna Discs.  Digital versions available from Amazon and iTunes.