Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Barenaked Ladies - Grinning Streak (2013)

Barenaked Ladies 2013 release Grinning Streak sounds so slick and confident that it sometimes seems more like a product than a creative endeavor, but it's a very good product.  Split between Canadian producers Gavin Brown and Howie Beck, the album is very solid from start to finish.

Guitarist Ed Robertson sings every track but one, which is a departure from their previous album which featured several tracks sung by both keyboardist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creeggan.  Robertson delivers his strongest vocal performance to date, but by the time you get to Kevin Hearn's "Daydreamin" (track 10) you're ready for some variety.

The songwriting is top-notch here.  Every track is exceptional, and the album features some of their best wordplay.  Robertson's "Boomerang" features the great lyric "Despite the pretty dress and curls, you don't throw like other girls, you followed through".  Robertson delivers the line like he knows it's a good lyric, so he's going to make sure you notice it.  It's something only a very gifted singer/songwriter can do successfully.

In "Odds Are," Robertson sings "Struck by lightning, sounds pretty frightning, better chance you're gonna buy it at the mall".  I immediately got that he's trying to say that you're more likely to be killed doing something mundane instead of in a natural disaster, but "Buy it... at the mall?"  It's subtle, and it's not in-your-face - it sneaks up on you.  Equally good is the line "Talk was cheap, until I started talking to professionals" (from "Best Damn Friend").

Musically there's a lot going on here, but it's so confidently delivered that it doesn't sound overdone.  There's a lot of keyboards on this album, but it takes repeated listenings to discover most of it.  All of BNL's signature rhythmic tricks are here, and there's a lot of intricate acoustic guitar.  The background vocals are well done and turned up in the mix, giving the album a similar feel to 1992's Gordon, with perhaps slightly less musical variety.

The weakest track is probably the dark and heavy "Keepin' it Real," but even that song has such compelling lyrics that it would take a whole other blog post to even attempt to examine it.  Also, I miss hearing Jim Creeggan's lead vocals, as I think he's quite a good singer.

Grinning Streak is a very strong Barenaked Ladies album that grows on you with each listen, but still seems instantly familiar.  I guess keeping at it for 25 years will teach you some things.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Steve Lukather - Transition (2013)

Containing pop rock, prog rock, a little fusion and a healthy dose of straight-forward soulful rock and roll, Transition is Steve Lukather's strongest album to date.  Produced by Lukather and keyboardist CJ Vanston (who also appeared on 2010's All's Well That Ends Well), Transition features remarkably strong performances augmented by notable guests such as Gregg Bissonette, Leland Sklar, Nathan East and Lenny Castro.

Lukather delivers a memorable guitar solo on every track, and I've never heard him sound more inspired.  Lyrically, the songs on Transition are exceptional, even to the high standards set by his previous work.  "Judgement Day" is a scathing rebuttal to the kind of vitriolic internet commentary that musicians have to endure far too often.  "Right the Wrong" and "Do I Stand Alone" contain political commentary that is direct and poignant, but doesn't come across as preachy - not an easy thing to do.  But then again, Lukather did win a Grammy for songwriting when he was only 25 years old.

Standout tracks are the edgy "Creep Motel" (written by Lukather, Vanston and Fee Waybill of The Tubes), the ballad "Once Again" (with it's Toto-esque rhythmic twist in the chorus) and the title track "Transition" - a stunning prog rock instrumental that ends with a brief but powerful lyric about death and loss.  The instrumental standard "Smile" closes the album with a tasty guitar lick at the end that will make you want to rewind and hear it again.

Collaborator CJ Vanston really knows what he's doing.  His masterful keyboard arrangements are top notch, and as the mix engineer he's responsible for the buttery-smooth sound quality as well.

Mascot Records offers Transition on CD and 180g vinyl, and it's also available to download from iTunes and Amazon.com.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Crowded House - Intriguer (2010)

It wasn't until I was halfway through the fourth listen of Crowded House's latest CD Intriguer that I reconsidered my original opinion that I didn't like it as much as 2007's Time On Earth. Every review I've seen of it has mentioned that it takes repeated listens to begin to appreciate it's merits, so it seems that a lot of listeners are having a similar experience.

Intriguer is one of the classic Crowded House albums, and possibly the very best one. The arrangements are both stripped-down and lush all at the same time. I'm not sure how they did that, but it is proof that it can be done. There are some beautiful keyboard arrangements, especially in "Archer's Arrows" and "Either Side of the World," the latter being impossible to describe and must be heard to be believed - a really stunning track. Keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart deserves some credit for laying down his tracks with generous amounts of finesse. A few songs feature some quite Beatlesque twists and turns and a few distorted, in-your-face guitar solos. There are lots of surprises, which is probably why this CD takes so long to process.

Clocking in at only 40 minutes, Intriguer is short but seems to be exactly long enough. It's not perfect, as there are a few engineering imperfections that bother me slightly. There are some distorted sound effects at the beginning of the opening track "Saturday Sun" that, along with the over-modulated bass track, give the illusion that the drums are distorted. The drums in "Even If," a beautiful, sparsely-arranged track, are played softly but cranked up loud in the mix, making them seem too harsh. These few sonic distractions aside, this is a very strong release from Crowded House and is highly recommended.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A change in direction for this blog...

There has been a lot of political content in this blog in the past, but I have decided to shift the focus to short, concise CD reviews and recommendations. My first web site, Todd Town (1998-1998), was a music review site, but it was short-lived because I had trouble writing reviews that were less than 5000 words. Therefore, I would put off writing them and I never made much progress. This time I'll try to reel myself in and keep things brief, but still informative and hopefully entertaining.

Look for a new post in the next few days!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Somewhere Else with Marillion

I didn't want too much time to go by before I mentioned Marillion's new CD Somewhere Else. Released in April, this CD has gotten a little lost amongst the highly anticipated and more aggressively executed Porcupine Tree CD Fear Of A Blank Planet and the much higher profile Snakes & Arrows by Rush. Somewhere Else seems a bit more understated than it's recent competition, but it would be an injustice if it was ignored. Much better than the recent Rush offering (more on that later), Somewhere Else is a powerhouse of subtlety and lyrical inspiration.

The CD is awash in sonic surprises that don't always make an impression right off the bat. Lots of creative sound effects and electronic flourishes make for rewarding repeated listenings. Some have said that a lower mastering level has made this CD sound inferior, but I disagree. Just turn it up a bit and it's all there. The guitar solos are some of Steve Rothery's best ever, and keyboardist Mark Kelly uses a very large variety of sounds, as well as more acoustic piano than usual.

The most political Marillion CD to date, Somewhere Else is eloquent, tasteful and never overbearing. The message is simple. Marillion wants us to notice things.

From "See it Like a Baby":

Look at it as though you've never seen it before
Try and forget it
So you can see it

And from "A Voice From the Past":

Give me a smile
Hold out your hand
I don't want your money
I don't want your land

I want you to wake up
And do something strange
I want you to listen
I want you to feel
Someone else's pain

Wake up. Listen. Feel.

Sometimes it's good to notice things.