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.