Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: Rainbow - Rising

In 1976, Rainbow was somewhat of a supergroup in the making. With guitarist Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple fame, frontman Ronnie James Dio, who had only fronted (and had minor success with) blues-rock band Elf at this point in his career, bassist Jimmy Bain, who would go on to form several bands with Thin Lizzy members and play in Dio and drummer Cozy Powell, who would achieve journeyman status after playing with every rock band from Black Sabbath to Jeff Beck, Rainbow would churn out one of the better Hard Rock albums of the 70's. Featuring Blackmore's increasingly progressive guitar licks and Dio's wildly mythical lyricism, Rising is often cited as the best Dio-fronted Rainbow release. Let's give it a go and see why.

1. Tarot Woman
The keyboard intro is very typical of the whole 70's rock scene and isn't very spectacular in itself. About a minute and a half into the song Powell and Blackmore come thundering in with a powerful drum-line and a riff that reminds me why Ritchie Blackmore was the king of hard rock guitar in the 70's. Once Dio joins the party, this song really gets kicking. Although Ritchie's lackluster guitar solo slows down the pace of the song at the halfway point, Dio's work on the chorus is absolutely gorgeous. Albeit a bit meandering at the beginning, a good song overall.

2. Run With The Wolf
Starting off proper with some musical interplay between Blackmore, Bain and Powell, "Run With The Wolf" is considerably more downbeat than "Tarot Woman". Dio's lyrics are fairly corny and almost un-listenable. In fact, the real highlight of this song is the musicianship of Blackmore, Bain and Powell. Through most of the song, Dio seems to be battling to be heard, first over Powell and Bain's groove, then over Blackmore's solo. If you can actually ignore Dio, this is a pretty solid song. If you can't, meh.

3. Starstruck
An obvious Single-oriented song, "Starstruck" is probably the most memorable song on Rising. Despite being a lyrical non-sequitur for the album, it is, nevertheless, absolutely classic. With Dio narrating a true story of one fans obsessive need to see Ritchie Blackmore's awesome mustache, over a riff that drives the song, "Starstruck" is a showcase in superb songwriting and talent.

4. Do You Close Your Eyes
This song has never, ever worked for me. Compared to the rest of the album, "Do You Close Your Eyes" is a flat out pop piece. I don't think anybody wanted to hear Dio asking "Do you close your eyes when you make love?" in 1976, I still don't in 2010.

5. Stargazer
If you happen to own this album on LP, you'll know that "Stargazer" is on the second side of the vinyl. If you knew that, you'll probably also know that this is where Rainbow gets down to business. "Stargazer" starts off with a drum solo which, despite sounding a bit dated now, is a great flashback to when drummers were actually musicians, not just metronomes. Blackmore definitely came prepared with a ridiculously heavy riff and a solo that just kills. Ronnie James Dio completely steals the song with his monstrous vocals, howling in a way that only he could. Oh, and lest I forget to mention, "Stargazer" has a complete orchestral arrangement which just further adds to the theatrical effect of this eight and a half minute long epic.

6. A Light In The Black
I absolutely love this song. Where the previous song was built on its slower, more theatrical build-up and climax, "A Light In The Black" speeds away right out of the gate. The song itself reminds me a lot of the Deep Purple song "Fireball". But three times as long. And three times as awesome. With better production. And Dio's vocals are awesome. Listen to it now.

Final Thoughts: This is a really, really great album and a must-listen to anybody in the rock crowd. Just do yourself a favor and go check it out.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spotlight: The Tallest Man On Earth

If you've never heard of The Tallest Man On Earth, he's an incredibly talented folk musician from Sweden. Sounding a whole lot like Bob Dylan, if Bob Dylan had chops on a guitar, and if Bob Dylan could sing, The Tallest Man On Earth is exactly the sort of artist who makes you proud to be in 2010, rather than nostalgic for the good ole days. Six months ago, he released his second solo album, The Wild Hunt, to critical acclaim. Just within the last month, he's released a brand new EP entitled Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird. It's a great EP from a great modern artist. Check out a sample from the EP below, then pick it up via iTunes or be a dirty little hipster and pre-order a vinyl from Amazon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: Bad Religion - No Control

In November of '89, Californian punk rock band Bad Religion dropped their fourth studio album, No Control. Released on BR's own Brett Gurewitz's Epitaph Records, No Control marked a step into the world of hardcore punk. Featuring faster songs with shorter song structures, No Control is often cited as being one of Bad Religions best albums (alongside Suffer and to a lesser extent Against The Grain). With 15 tracks at a blistering 26:25 play time, let's give a quick listen to one of the best punk albums ever.

1. Change Of Ideas
Clocking in at just under a minute, "Change Of Ideas" can almost be seen as an intro to No Control, having no real substance as a song itself. Of course, that isn't to say "Change Of Ideas" is a bad song, just one without a discernible chorus, it's lyrics blending into a single verse. The sound itself is similar to Suffer (albeit faster paced), which makes sense as production on both No Control and Suffer (as well as every BR release ever) were produced by Mr. Brett. All-in-all, the song ends very abruptly and leaves the listener to wonder what happened. Did they run out of lyrics? Tape to record? Maybe all of the amps blew out simultaneously? I don't know, but let's move on.

2. Big Bang
"Big Bang" is a perfect example of why No Control is frequently seen as BR's best effort and a punk rock classic. Starting up as quickly as "Change Of Ideas" ended, we're met with a dueling guitar riff that becomes a theme of No Control. That riff being, "low-chord low-chord low-chord low-chord high-chord high-chord high-chord high-chord". I hate to poke fun, but you will eventually come to see what I'm talking about. Nevertheless, this is a great song, with Graffin giving some of his classic socio-political commentary interspersed with bad cliches and drummer Pete Finestone rollicking along, I love it.

3. No Control
There's this cliche in rock music; something about no title tracks are actually ever any good. Well, this one isn't THAT bad, but at the same time, it isn't really that good either. I've only ever been able to remember the first 10 seconds of the song, and I assume that's all you'll remember as well. The upside is that the lyrics are pretty poignant if you're into other people philosophizing about life for you. Some people swear by this track, but some people also swear by the Florida Marlins and Nelly so what do they really know? Heh. NEXT!

4. Sometimes I Feel Like
I like this song because it's relaxing to hear Graffin briskly say large words and know that he's probably making tons of sense. However, I don't like this song enough to re-listen to the first 20 seconds repeatedly until I understand what he's saying. I think the setup to the "instrument freak-out" is, it's dorky but it works in the context of the song. Overall a good song.

5. Automatic Man
This is another Bad Religion classic. The analogy here is well done and fitting, as is the brutal sarcasm. I always seem to let the music take the back seat in this one just because the songwriting is so damn good. Overall, this is my third favorite track of the album.

6. I Want To Conquer The World
This was the song that sold me on Bad Religion, No Control and why I should be a better person in general. I'm still horribly flawed, but damn this is a great song and a must listen for anybody who likes music. I dig the opening solo, which shows a surprising amount of musical maturity for a band that still sounds so young. Immediately after the solo, Greg Graffin starts off with his lecture for the soul. I don't want to spoil the song for you, so you should listen to it yourself. Like right now.

7. Sanity
One of the slower songs on No Control, "Sanity" comes across as a pleasant break from the break-neck speed of the first half of the album. Inversely from songs like "I Want To Conquer The World" and "Big Bang", whose edge comes from the fast dueling guitar-work and Graffins brisk espousing, "Sanity" gives room for lush vocal harmonies (for a punk rock band), and a chugging guitar riff that just seems to make the song work. I don't understand the need for the horrible guitar solos to be crammed into the middle of the song though. Eh.

8. Henchmen
Much like "Sanity", "Henchmen" is a peculiar song to hear in the middle of an album like No Control. Staring out with an intro similar to "Big Bang", "Henchmen"  melds into a bridge that sounds straight out of "Sanity", before abruptly restarting, sounding something more like "Henchmen Part II" than a continuation of part uno. I guess it kinda works. Sorta. Let's just move on to the next track.

9. It Must Look Pretty Appealing
I was pretty happy to move on from "Henchmen" because I thought that "You" was right afterwords. After listening to this track, I know why I assumed that...Because I always skipped this track...The track suffers from the same problem the title track does, nice lyrics set the music that isn't all that great. Blah.

10. You
I am not too big a man to admit that the first time I ever heard this song was while playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2. Those were good times. Having Rodney Mullen transition between the two dumpsters in the Rio level...Good times.... But I digress, this song is awesome. In the context of the album, this is easily second place to "I Want To Conquer The World". Just listen to this song. Right now.

11. Progress
The intro makes it sound like the second part of "Sanity". The song as a whole is pretty underwhelming. The lyrics might be kinda deep. I wouldn't really know, I never actually listen to this one.

12. I Want Something More
A solid song. Short. But solid. The next one's better though.

13. Anxiety
I actually really like this song for the simplicity and truthfulness of it's lyrics. The songwriting is really well done with the guitar intro's chord progression imparting an anxious sound into the song. I really love the guitar solo and this is actually the first song on the album where I actually notice a bassline. All-in-all, cool beans.

14. Billy
This isn't a bad song. It just isn't one of Bad Religion's specialties and with no help to the (incredibly) insincere-sounding vocals, this loosely-traced story of a young man's decent into addiction and the end of verse questions come off as careless. Oh well.

15. The World Won't Stop
Eww. Yeah, eww. "Anxiety" wouldn't have been a bad song to end this album on. I'm just going to move on to the recap now.

Final Thoughts: I absolutely love the first ten tracks of this album. Sadly, the album takes a huge detour at track eleven and ends on a note that's flagrantly off-key. Despite having this flaw, songs like "I Want To Conquer The World", "Big Bang", "You" and "Automatic Man" have made this album a punk rock classic and helped cement Bad Religion as one of the king's of modern Punk. Definitely a must listen for the rock crowd.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Josh Ritter - The Animal Years

Josh Ritter dropped his fourth studio album, The Animal Years, a few months into 2006 and walked away with the one of the best folk albums of the year. The Animal Years presents a man wise beyond his age, one that's fallen in love with the West. Ritter describes his music as Americana, and a quick listen to The Animal Years is all one needs to find out why that title is so fitting. So here goes my listen-through, Enjoy.

1. Girl In The War
 Ritter kicks off The Animal Years with a heartwarming song about...well, exactly what the title says. While there isn't much to say about the narrative itself, the songwriting and production is incredible. What starts off as a slow arpeggio easily melds into a dense soundscape, and a beautiful one at that. A good song overall and a good way to start an album.

2. Wolves
"Wolves" starts off with a rollicking drumbeat reminiscent of pretty much every Bruce Springsteen song ever that quickly gives way to a driving piano bit that becomes the centerpiece of the song. Again, the instrumentals blend seamlessly and listening to Ritter is easy, despite his lyrics coming in under the radar. A solid song nonetheless.

3. Monster Ballads
The first stand-out song on The Animal Years, and darn is it a nice one. The organ and drum into is quite beautiful, lending an almost hymnal feel to the track. Ritters vocals and lyrics really shine here, letting the instrumentals take the backseat in this one. That Americana tag really starts to come into play here.

4. Lillian, Egypt
This is one of the few songs on this album that I find myself skipping more often than not. It's not a particularly bad song, in fact, it's actually on par with most of The Animal Years. The brisker pace and the tone of the six-string leaves me feeling that this is very out of place. The overly repetitive chorus, which may be fun during karaoke, just feels like sloppy songwriting.

5. Idaho
How fitting that one of my least favorite tracks is followed up by one of my favorites. "Idaho" is the first break in an impressive sonic-landscape, with Mr. Ritter lending us only his (very faint) guitar and his song. It's impressive how haunting this song comes across, with each chorus return becoming evermore emotional. Probably the best song on this album.

6.  In The Dark
Following up such a fantastic display of talent is "In The Dark", A slow, strummed, tumbling tune that's reminiscent of a sixties pop rock summer hit. Not a bad song, but there's better to come.

7. One More Mouth
Sort of a continuation of "In The Dark". Only with a jangly electric rather than an acoustic. Still pretty good. Let's move on.

8. Good Man
The fact is, both "In The Dark" and "One More Mouth" are sort of non-sequiturs for The Animal Years in that they don't really have the same feel or atmosphere as the rest of the album does. "Good Man" picks up where "Idaho" left off, starting with a brisk intro that gives way to Ritters lyrics about women and the road. A pretty damn good song.

9. Best For The Best
I tend to find myself enjoying Ritters acoustic noodling here. The vocals are more of the same which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Skip this song to get to the best song on the album.

 10. Thin Blue Flame
 "Thin Blue Flame" is without a doubt the best song on this album. What starts off as a calm, strummed rhythm quickly builds into a driving beat, with our host spitting out  lyrics in a very Dylan-esque style. At almost 10 minutes, "Thin Blue Flame" is definitely the most ambitious song on The Animal Years. Luckily, it's an ambition that pays off. If nothing else, at least give this song a listen.

11. Here At The Right Time
Personally, I've never understood the reason why Ritter wouldn't have just closed the album with "Thin Blue Flame" instead of packing this song in between the albums epic and its ending. Let's just pretend this song doesn't exist and that he did end it with "Thin Blue Flame".

Final Thoughts: Despite faltering in certain, obvious spots, Josh Ritter is able to hold his own with The Animal Years. I'd say this album is worth a listen regardless of its failings and who knows, maybe if you happen to be in just the right mood, you'll find that The Animal Years is as perfect an album as you'd want from the singer-songwriter.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spotlight: Stunts

Every blog has to have an inaugural post, it's just something that has to happen, so I figured I'd kick this blog off highlighting a band that I've become damn near obsessive over the last few months. That would be the band Stunts.

Stunts is a six-piece indie pop band based out of Austin, Texas. Their sound is a strong combination of power-pop melodies over a shoegaze-esque backdrop. Drenched in reverb and dripping with morose, Stunts is able to make you want to either dance or curl up in a corner with your iPod on a rainy day. Go here to check out their debut EP. It's completely free so there's no reason not to.

And voila, the inaugural post has ended. Cue the curtain, dim the lights, and exit.