Saturday, June 2, 2018

Album Spotlight: Lindsay Ell - The Project

Lindsay Ell's The Project came out in August of 2017. I heard it for the first time last week. And, wow, is it good.

The Canadian born singer/songwriter/guitarist put together and interesting, eclectic 12 song collection on The Project. Elements of pop, pop-country, funk, blues, and maybe some disco litter the record. Four words I would use to describe the record are: bright, tight, loose and jangly.

Wait, what? Two of those words are diametrically opposed and how can it be all of those?

Let me explain.

Bright - There is nothing dark about the sound of this album. Even on the songs with heavier subject matter, the music is always bright.

Tight - The rhythm section, bass and drums, are tight. On every track. And they are real people playing real instruments. No drum machines. It's an organic tightness between professional musicians. They provide the perfect pocket for...

Loose - The guitar is loose. Not that the guitar is sloppy, but such a tight pocket by the rhythm section allows a freedom for the guitar parts, which are a lot of times...

Jangly - I know that's not a real word. But I think you can get the gist of what I'm trying to convey.

For me, The Project is a difficult album to write about. As an entire entity if fits nowhere on the music genre spectrum. Which I love, but confuses some people. Some songs could be placed in certain genres, but to parse those songs out and place them would be a disservice to what this album is about.

The Project isn't about trying to find a home, a genre. It's about Lindsay Ell putting out the music that she makes. And that makes it infinitely better than trying to do the former. Country, rock and pop fans can all finds something to like on this album. Fans of good music can find a lot to like about this album.

Those of you that regularly read my ramblings (thanks for that) may be wondering about the swamp. Well, not really any swamp here. Not everything that's good needs swamp. This is one of those albums. But what The Project has is real people playing real instruments (I may have mentioned that, but it's important to me), and playing them well.

So here a couple of songs.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

ZZ Ward Show Experience

Saw ZZ Ward on 5/18/18 in Austin at Emo's.

First of all, never miss the opening act, you never know what you might miss. Opening for ZZ Ward was the trio consisting of brothers from the UK with an American drummer called the Ruen Brothers. They were a blast.

I don't know how to exactly to describe what they did. It was kind of a rockabilly/country/California surf punk/50s/Brit pop mashup. Go figure. I'd never heard any of their songs before, as I'm sure a large percentage of the crowd had not, but they kept everyone engaged throughout their 40 minute set.

To me, that's what separates the good live entertainers from the bad; if no one knows the songs, is the crowd still engaged? They did that.

I'm a recent fan of ZZ Ward since hearing her most recent album The Storm, which I wrote about.

Ward is an exceptional performer, vocally fantastic with her unique voice, playing harmonica, guitar and keys at various points throughout the show. She transitioned smoothly between full band and acoustic, blues and beats.

I'l admit, I'm not fully versed in her full catalog, but the songs I didn't recognize had me just as engaged as the songs I was familiar with. See above, but to me, that's what makes an artist truly great in a live setting.

Ward is heavily influenced by the blues, and that is where she and her band really shined. More blues rock than straight blues, but her set was heavy in that area and the crowd (and I) really dug that.

I understand the draw to recreate the album as close as possible, but the only criticism I have of the show is the use of pre-recorded music for a few songs. She, and her band, are good enough to pull off the songs without it. It was obvious, and they didn't try to hide it. It did not take away from the enjoyment of most patrons, but as a music nerd, it bothered me. I'd rather hear a stripped down version of the song than trying to emulate the album exactly, but that's just me.

Other than that, the show was awesome. She commands the stage. Her band is fantastic. Packed in the music, not much banter, one song to the next. You get your money's worth at a ZZ Ward show.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Favorite Power Ballads From 1988-1992

Loudwire put out their best power ballads of all time that don't suck. I don't think they understand what a power ballad is.

Before I saw that article, this happened. I'm a big college football fan and Andy Staples, who writes for Sports Illustrated about college football, has a column every Monday which includes a "Random Ranking". Via Twitter, I asked Staples if he'd ever done a random ranking on power ballads between 1988 and 1992. He replied that it would be in this week's column, You'll need to scroll past the football stuff to get to it if you're not a fan.

Why 1988 to 1992? Because that was power ballad prime and power ballad hell, concurrently. Then Nirvana blew the whole thing to shreds.

What follows are my Top 10 Favorites. Notice I didn't say "best". That's subjective. "Favorites" lets you know that it's subjective.

1. "I Remember You", Skid Row. This song perfected what the power ballad is supposed to be. A tame, acoustic opening. Hints of power in the verses. A bombastic, memorable chorus. The ramp up in the bridge before the guitar solo. Bring it down for the third verse before blowing out the final choruses with Sebastian Bach's soaring vocals.

2. "House of Pain", Faster Pussycat. Harmonica intro into acoustic verse. This one may not fit the classic definition because it actually has some real meaning behind the lyrics. Taime Down has, shall we say, an interesting voice. But it has the memorable chorus. Tasty electric guitar solo. It doesn't have the signature bridge. What can I say, it's one of my favorites and it's my list.

3. "Ballad of Jayne", L.A. Guns. Familiar acoustic start through the verse and chorus. This one, again, has more meaning behind it, being that it's about someone who has passed. Goes with the electric guitar solo. More subdued than others, before transitioning back to acoustic. And we get some strings towards the end.

4. "Heartbreak Station", Cinderella. I could probably put three Cinderella songs on this list, but I'm just going to stick with this one. Tom Keifer as a ballad writer is unmatched. You get the lap slide solo in this one. You get the piano ballad from "Don't Know What You Got" and the more pure power ballad in "Nobody's Fool", just to name a few.

5. "I Saw Red", Warrant. OK, I know most people, if they were to choose a Warrant song would choose "Heaven". Not me. This is just an old fashioned cheatin' song. And he's very nonchalant about it. He didn't see his face, but he saw hers and closed the door and now he's not going to love her anymore. So simple, yet so poignant. Then the bridge before the solo, we get the pain and anger.

6. "Close My Eyes Forever", Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne. I'm not sure if this may not be the best song on my list. But it fails to make the top stop on the spirit of the list because it has too many epic qualities. It's a great song, but a bit over-produced and over-dramatic, but I can't not include it.

7. "Love's A Loaded Gun", Alice Cooper. Hey, if Ozzy and Lita can get into the power ballad game, why not Alice? Of course Alice puts his own twisted twist on the power ballad by making it about a call girl that he's in love with/stalking?

8. "Something To Believe In", Poison. OK, I know, "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" is the popular choice. I don't know, I like my power ballads to have some substance. And besides this is the superior song.

9. "Fly To The Angels", Slaughter. I think Mark Slaughter oversings everything, but that's just him. It doesn't take away from the greatness of this song. Again, this song has some meaning to it. I don't know, maybe it's just me getting older, but mostly I'm not here for the superfluous. Don't get wrong, I still like my nonsense, but don't give me meaningless fluff.

10. "Love Of A Lifetime", Firehouse. This is not a great song. Why do I include this? Because this is the kind of schlock that killed an era and led to grunge. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Number 10 should always be a wildcard, right? Or make a point? The previous nine are good songs. This is just what happened.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Album Spotlight: The Amorettes - Born to Break

We all listen to music for different reasons at different times because of different circumstances or moods. Maybe something takes you back to a distant memory that you don't want to forget. Maybe a song or album is something you really relate to and helps you get through a difficult time. Maybe the lyrics speak to you and make you think. Maybe it's a gloomy February day and some mood music is what you need. Maybe it's a sunny spring day and you want something light and peppy. Music can inspire, music can heal, music can fit any situation you find yourself in. That is the beauty and power and magic of music.

Why did I waste so many words on that? Because sometimes music just needs to be fun. And enjoyable.

The Amorettes' latest album Born to Break is fun. It's, to me, AC/DC meets the Go-Go's. That sounds fun, right?

This Scottish trio is unapologetically rock. And they tug at my heartstrings because they do it late 70s/early 80s style. Guitar, bass and drums. No frills. Straight up hard rock.

Don't look for any deep meaning in the lyrics. As Eric Church once penned "that's damn rock n roll".

There is not much variety on Born to Break. It's twelve in your face songs rock songs. That's not a bad thing. AC/DC made a hell of a career out of doing just that. I respect artists who know who they are/want to be and just go for it.

And, just a head's up, with newish bands like the Amorettes making killer rock music, rock ain't dead in reality, it's just dead on mainstream American radio. It's alive and well and flourishing elsewhere.

Enough words, here is "Everything I Learned - I Learned From Rock and Roll":

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Album Spotlight: Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere

Ashley McBryde's latest album Girl Going Nowhere has a lot to like. There is some straight up country, some Americana (however the hell you want to define that), some heartland rock (mid 80s style) and some swamp.

The lyrics on the album are chock full of personal stories, imagery, and nostalgia. Lyrics are for each listener to interpret for themself, which is why I rarely go in depth on that front. For me, the lyrics are irrelevant until the music grabs me.

Speaking of the music, Girl Going Nowhere is a collection of 11 very well crafted songs, both instrumentally and lyrically. "Radioland" is a fun. nostalgic, John Mellencamp-type heartland rocker. "Southern Babylon" is dark and swampy and something I'm sure prime Tanya Tucker would have been eager to record. If I did "Song of the Year" type stuff, this song would be the early frontrunner.

There is a cool Tom Petty vibe on "The Jacket", which is another nostalgia song. I don't know, but I hope "Livin' Next To Leroy" is based on a true story, even if not McBryde personally. This song is also the closest McBryde comes to Southern rock. Especially that guitar solo, which I'll get back to later.

"A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega" is simply a great country song. As is "Tired of Being Happy", which has the added bonus of a great play on words. Self-deprecating and clever lyrics.

The songs and songwriting on this album are exquisite. I need to see Ashley McBryde live, because I think all the songs would pop. My thing on this blog is to promote stuff I like, so you won't see very much criticism here, but there is one element on this album that warrants it.

While I appreciate that the vocals are up in the mix (I hate when I can't understand the vocals), the instrumentation is buried on this album. That solo on "Livin' Next To Leroy" should have been brought way up in the mix. And that's not the only one.

I don't know who in the camp was scared, but someone was and it hurts the album as a listening experience. Fortunately, the quality of the songs overcome the poor mixing judgement.

Anyway, here is my favorite song:

Friday, April 6, 2018

Album Spotlight: Blackberry Smoke - Find a Light

There are going to be a lot of words written about Blackberry Smoke's new album Find a Light. I'm going to save some bandwidth.

If you're a fan of Blackberry Smoke, you'll be pleased. If you've never heard Blackberry Smoke and you like Southern Rock, you'll be pleased. If you don't like Southern Rock, skip.

It's really that simple. Go buy the album, download or pay for your streaming.

So here's some pirate metal from Alestorm:

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Album Spotlight: Danielle Nicole - Cry No More

Danielle Nicole's sophomore solo album Cry No More is a sweaty, sultry blues rock album that is the epitome of my definition of "swamp". The Kansas City native would be right at home in the blues scene of her hometown as well as as the Mississippi Delta, or Memphis, or Texas.

Pulling double duty as not only lead vocalist but also bassist for her band, you know the music is going to feature the bass prominently, and that's a good thing. Too often, the bass gets buried in the mix, not here.

Danielle Nicole started playing bass in order to keep her former band, Trampled Under Foot, a family affair. When she ventured out on her own, no way she was giving up the bass, for the betterment of us all as fans of music.

Is there anything particularly innovative or unique on Cry No More? Not necessarily. But that's not a bad thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing your wheelhouse and going with it and making kickass music. In fact, that's what I love about the album. It knows what it is and it's going to be as good as or better than anything else you hear.

Her voice is not going to blow you away. It has some Bonnie Raitt qualities, maybe some Melissa Etheridge. However, her voice is perfect for the type of music she plays. It just fits like a glove.

If you start listening and don't like the first song, "Crawl", then stop. But if you do, you're in for a treat. Not a bad song on the album.

I'm going to post a live version of the song "Save Me", because as good as the studio version is, this is better. Which I think every song would be.

Monday, March 26, 2018

How We Can Listen to the Same Song and Hear It Differently

Recently, it has fascinated me how two people can listen to the same song and come away with wildly different perspectives. Zackary Kephart, who runs the blog The Musical Divide, was kind enough to indulge me in proving this.

I chose Dorothy’s latest album 28 Days in the Valley for this experiment. Both of us wrote about it on our respective blogs and both liked it. With a few exceptions, we did not exactly line up on which songs we thought were the strongest.

Zack is a 21 year old New Yorker (not NYC) whose main focus is on country music, go figure. I’m a Texan in my 40s who grew up listening to George Strait and Guns n’ Roses, Alabama and ZZ Top.

While Zack’s blog is primarily country and Americana, he has legitimate rock bonafides, thanks to his mother and the game Guitar Hero. While he mostly writes about country and Americana, he also covers rock sporadically.

Since you’re reading this, you probably know what I write about, so I won’t go into detail.

So, we each listened to 28 Days in the Valley and wrote down/typed up one, two, three sentences on each song. What follows below is our reactions to each song while listening through the album. I mixed up the order of the responses, but you can figure out some of them. Others, maybe not.

Know that we have both listened to the album several times before. This is not initial reaction, but yet just an experiment in how people can listen to the same song and hear it differently.

Reminds me of early 90s Sheryl Crow musically. That kind of lilting, laid back rock vibe. Lyrically, people thought she was flawless as she was broken, now that she’s in a better place, she’s gonna own that term.

I don't like these types of meaningless empowerment anthems that are made to sound like well … empowerment anthems. It comes across as cloying and cheesy. I don't like this.

Who Do You Love
This track is a bit too heavy and compressed to really click for me, especially when she's shouting meaningless one-liners during the verses. It's a lot of flair for nothing much.

This is an homage to late 60s/early 70s semi-psychedelia. Starts out as a hard driving rocker then the break down comes and serves up, what we used to refer to as the “pot smoking section”, though much shorter than those songs of that era. It just has that vibe before it ramps back up to the finish.

Pretty When You’re High
Just a laid back California rock song about some surfer dude who, probably, lives out of his VW van and looks pretty. When he’s high. No deep meaning, just a fun song.

Beyond the really odd hook (who says someone is pretty when they're high?), I do like the swampy, electric blues feel to this. I just wish that guitar that creeped up after the uttering of the title was louder in the mix.

This is the first glimpse we get into the spiritual themes of the album. Almost gospel-like at times.

In my own review, while I did like this, it wasn't something I loved. I still wouldn't say it's something I love actually, but for some reason it clicked a lot better on another re-listen through this album. The gospel tinge to this coupled with the group harmonies give this a nice, lighter feel. This one seems to be the most Southern-Rock influenced track to me.

From this point on it really clicked with me outside of one track. Everything just gets darker, heavier, and more groove heavy, and this is no exception. It's got a badass, punchy solo to it.

This is first time that the album shows that Southern Rock tinge. It’s more Allman Brothers than Lynyrd Skynyrd, but it has the Southern Rock vibe. Maybe throw in some Edgar Winter in the breakdown.

White Butterfly
I liked the group harmonies on “Mountain”, but I love them here. It's almost got a psychedelic feel to it, and I like how sinister the harmonies sound here. Another good element of this latter half is that the bass lines are more prominent and stronger, including here. I also enjoy how the track sort of slows down to catch its breath before coming back full throttle.

This one is hard to pigeon hole. The first part sounds a bit grungy. Then it goes into a Pink Floyd- like interlude. Not one of my favorites, but a good song nonetheless.

28 Days In The Valley
This short song just sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a Western. It sounds like tumbleweeds and dust.

There’s not much to say here given that this is more of a transitional track, but it's dark, dusty, and cool.

On My Knees
This song is about is about sex, pure and simple. It’s KISS meets 80s sleaze rock, from a woman’s perspective.

This one has a heavy Heart influence to me, and while I can rehash why I like this, again, everything is just darker, edgier and more alive from here on out. Yeah, it's nothing more than a sex song, but frontwoman, Dorothy Martin's delivery is incredibly fierce and well-executed.

Black Tar & Nicotine
I honestly don't know what to say about this. It's not bad, but it's not a favorite cut here.

The Stevie Nicks is strong in Dorothy. This is first time we really hear it. Not much in voice, but in style. The strongest song lyrically, in my opinion. It’s a dark song full of alcohol and drugs and addiction.

This is prime early MTV. Evokes Bowie, Blondie. But also has some Doors vibe. Or maybe Fleetwood Mac, especially on the chorus, channelling her inner Stevie Nicks again.

While the second half is known for being darker, edg … oh nevermind, this track takes things in a different direction by being spacey and more alluring. It's my favorite track here for sure. Dorothy's frailer vocal performance helps to add a creepy, ominous mood to this. Plus, that chorus is a dang earworm.

Ain’t Our Time To Die
This is the one track in the second half that I don't like, mostly because if you strip away the sound and leave only the words on paper, it reads out like a bad Country song, like say, The Band Perry's “Live Forever.” Again, there's nothing wrong with fantasy, but it's trying to be badass and ends up being about nothing.

The song has a strong Tom Petty vibe to it with Grace Slick on vocals. Wouldn’t that have been a good combination to have heard?

Honestly, this track is hard to dislike, and you really don't need to say much else other than it's fast, fun, punchy and overall a nice upbeat change of pace for the album. That recurring riff that crops up everytime they repeat the title is a treat for the ears.

I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s alright. A fun song. High energy. I won’t skip it when listening to the album.

We Need Love
If you’re a fan of early Heart and/or Jefferson Airplane, this song. Love. If you take nothing else away from this album, take this away: We need love. Love and healing is what this album is about. Well, there’s the sex and fun, but you know.

What I love about this album is that it's a love letter to classic Rock, but it's a love letter that pays homage to literally any kind of Rock you can think of. Here, we have a cool Surf-Rock inspired track that ends things off on a high note. This album also has a thing for implementing cool riffs after they sing the titles. I dig it.

"Flawless" is probably where we had the most differing opinion:

And finally a live version of one we both really liked, "Freedom". Also just to show that there are no studio tricks on the album. Dorothy is the real deal.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Album Spotlight: Dorothy - 28 Days In The Valley

For anyone wanting Dorothy's second album 28 Days In The Valley to be ROCKISDEAD part two, well, it's not. What it is though is a much more diverse and, in my opinion, better album. And that's saying a lot, because ROCKISDEAD was one of my top albums from 2016.

The title 28 Days In The Valley refers to how long it took to record the album, produced by, and some songs co-written by, Linda Perry. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Perry was the singer and primary songwriter for 4 Non Blondes.

Dorothy Martin, which is whom the band is named for, also got sober and removed herself from a toxic relationship and put together an entire new band for this album. As a result, some of the songs on 28 Days In The Valley seem cathartic while many others are almost spiritual in nature, reflecting her new outlook on life.

I usually don't get into background information this much or comment on lyrics (that is up for the listener's interpretation) but I thought it was important this time. It matters to how I interpret the music in this case, which, to me, is the most relevant thing; Is the music good?

After a couple of cursory spins of the album, I listened with a purpose. This is an album that is a veritable homage to classic rock. It has everything. I first fell in love with Dorothy on the debut album because of all of the swamp. 28 Days In The Valley still has that swamp, but so much more.

There is really no easy way to describe the music. From start to finish, the easiest thing to compare it to is Southern Rock. The album has so many elements of that music running through the course of the songs, but it's much more nuanced than that.

The title song is a vignette that could be on a western movie soundtrack that evokes thoughts of tumbleweeds and dust. "Mountain" is a Southern Rock, almost gospel song. "Freedom" is a Southern Rock song with hints of psychedelia. "Ain't Our Time to Die" has a strong, groovy Tom Petty vibe to it. "White Butterfly", which Dorothy said in an interview is essentially a prayer, has an Allman Brothers meets Pink Floyd to it. "Philadelphia" is reminiscent of Debbie Harry in Blondie.

This is not to say that any of the songs are cheap knock-offs or dated. It's just that those influences (if they are) come through in the songs and execution. I also get hints of Grace Slick, Heart and Sheryl Crow in different parts of the album.

I'm also I big fan of how this album was recorded/produced. It has that 70s feel where all the instruments are prominent and nothing gets buried in the mix.

28 Days In The Valley is an unapologetic rock album that should resonate with any fans of what rock was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. And thankfully we still have artists like Dorothy making kickass rock music.

Here are some songs that represent the diversity of the album, but I would suggest listening to it all: