Thursday, June 22, 2017

Retro Album Spotlight: Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime

Concept albums generally don't play well in today's music world. It was even a risk in 1988 when Queensryche released Operation: Mindcrime.

If you like 80s progressive hard rock and care to follow a story, nobody did it better than Queensryche with this album.

Sex, drugs, religion, politics, anarchy, unrest, brainwashing, redemption. It's all there.

Then there are the characters: The angst-ridden, fix-seeking late teen/early twenties Nikki. The evil mastermind behind the flawed revolution, Dr. X. The "whore from the underground" turned sympathetic sexually abused church-going counter counter culture heroine, Mary. And then the sadistic priest, Father William.

I'm not going to lay out the storyline here. If you are intrigued, listen for yourself and take it in as your own.

Operation: Mindcrime was the fourth output from Queensryche, one EP and two full length albums which never broke them through. So putting out Mindcrime at that juncture in the arc of the band was risky, kind of their 2112.

It didn't hurt that Queensryche landed the opening bill for Metallica's ...And Justice for All tour. All this led to the followup album Empire being a big hit with songs such as "Silent Lucidity" and "Jet City Woman". So the gamble paid off.

The songs on Operation: Mindcrime don't just further the story, they hold up on their own merit. Geoff Tate is a phenomenal vocalist. Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton's twin and/or dueling guitars are some of the best of that era, Scott Rockenfield is a monster on the drums while Eddie Jackson holds it all down with the bass.

I'm not going to embed a video because it's not about one or two songs, it's about the album. If you're reading this, you have a google machine and can listen to the entire album, which is the only way it can be appreciated.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Album Spotlight: Vandoliers - The Native

From the first line of the first song, "I was born September 1st, in a little town outside Fort Worth" to the album closer "Weclome Home" the new Vandoliers album The Native is Texas through and through.

If you want to know what Texas music is all about, this album is a crash course. It takes snippets of Red Dirt, Southern Rock, Tejano, mariachi, Rockabilly, Texas swing, honky tonk, country, 80s pop rock, punk and beach/island music to create a diverse 10 song journey. Some of it may be a bit too inside baseball to resonate with everyone, such as the song "Pantego", but hell, if Cairo, IL can get a couple of songs recently, why not Pantego?

The Vandoliers are self aware and The Native never takes itself too seriously. Sure, there is some introspection and some nostalgia, but all in all, it's just fun summer fare with a perfect release date, the Friday before Memorial Day, which kind of indicates the beginning of summer in the United States.

The Native may not be for everyone, and frontman Joshua Fleming's vocals are unique, but they fit perfectly in the context of these songs.  The instrumentation and playing is spot-on throughout the album. This is just a fun album and these guys sound like they'd be great live.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Album Spotlight: Biters - The Future Ain't What It Used to Be

Everybody reading this has access to the Google machine. If you want history and context, look it up.

The new album from Biters is great. The Future Ain't What It Used to Be is 70s British glam, 80s Sunset Strip sleaze and Southern Rock all rolled into a fairly eclectic package.

Biters hail from Georgia, so the Southern Rock connection is easy to digest. The British glam ala The Sweet, T-Rex, Ziggy Stardust is not a natural connection. Then there's the 80s sleaze reminiscent of L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat.

Somehow, it all works.

And here's the thing. There is no one song that makes me perk up and say "That is great!" On the other hand, there is not one bad song on the album, no filler. It all just flows.

Because of where my wheelhouse is, I'm going with my favorite 80s influenced song here: "Vulture City".


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Album Spotlight: John Mellencamp - Sad Clowns and Hillbillies

John Mellencamp's new album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is an odd collection of songs; two covers, two songs he recorded in the 80s, two songs in which he gets songwriting credit for basically finishing a song, five duets with Carlene Carter, appearances by Martina McBride and Izzy Stradlin. All that may make it seem as though the album would be disjointed, but it turns out to be a very cohesive effort.

You may be wondering why I'm covering a John Mellencamp album at all, since I stay away from mainstream anything. Well, Mellencamp hasn't been anywhere near mainstream music in about two decades.

This started out as project between Mellencamp and Carter that was born out of their collaborations on other projects and playing together each night on Mellencamp's last tour, which Carter opened. They wanted to do an album of old time country gospel songs, but in the writing process it evolved into something quite different.

Sad Clowns & Hillbillies starts out with a cover of the 1971 Mickey Newbury song "Mobile Blue" which fits exactly into Mellencamp's American roots rock wheelhouse.

I'm not going to go song by song here, but just want to point out some stuff that stood out to me. "Grandview" was written in the early 90s by Mellencamp's cousin Bobby Clark and features Martina McBride on one verse and original Guns 'n Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin on guitar.

"All Night Talk Radio" was originally recorded for possible inclusion on the 1995 album Mr. Happy Go Lucky. New elements were added to the version on the current album including backing vocals by Carlene Carter.

On the newly recorded tracks (which is most of the album) Mellencamp's voice shows the wear and tear of years of smoking cigarettes and drinking. That doesn't detract from the quality of the songs here. Hell, he sounds like John Hiatt has always sounded.

Start to finish, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies is one of the best albums I've heard this year.

Here is "Grandview":



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Album Spotlight: Dalton Domino - Corners

Hailing from Lubbock, Texas, Dalton Domino's latest album Corners come out of the gate and straight into the swamp with the album-opening song "The River". That's both a bold move and a statement. A bold move because most people are expecting a Texas/Red Dirt album. A statement by letting it be known that this is not your run of the mill Texas/Red Dirt album.

Not my usual style, but I'm going to take this one almost song-by-song because it's diverse enough where there is no over-arching statement to be made about the album.

"The River" is a swampy, dark song with interesting instrumentation, replete with strings (or at least synthesized strings). After that the album settles into more of the pocket that you would expect from a Texas artist for a bit with the Southern Rock influenced "Decent Man", the modern Red Dirt of "Corners" and the easy pop country leanings of "July".

"More Than You" is an interesting musical journey. It starts out with the grit and groove of a Ray Wylie Hubbard song. Then it moves to a bluesier feel and ends up almost Motown, horns and all, while not changing the beat or tempo. In its texture, it's sublime.

"Rain" is a subtle, stripped down song about loss. Great in it's simplicity.

The funky guitar tone of "Sixteen Years" drives the verses of this Southern Rock-tinged song.

"Mine Again (I'd Be a Fool)" is the closest thing that comes to a skip-worthy song on the album, but it's really just too catchy to fall into that category. It kind of has a an 80's pop rock feel to it.

With "Sister" Dalton takes us back to the swamp with an almost "Juke Box Hero" verse vibe throughout the entire song. Then he stays there with the album closer "Monster" but brings in a Pink Floyd-like prog element.

Corners is the kind of album that always interests me. Diverse, and you never really know what to expect next. I know that some people want something with a more consistent sound. If so, this album is probably not for you. But, hey, here are a couple of songs, decide for yourself.




Monday, May 1, 2017

The ESPN Cuts and Radio

I mostly write about music. And that's why you read this blog. But today I'm going to write about something only tangentially related to music.

As a sports fan, I'm well aware of the cuts that were made by ESPN last week. A lot of good people were let go. All people in sports media were touched in some way or another by the cuts. I'm not going to get into any of the reasons or perceived reasons behind the cuts. There are more than enough articles out there that can explain it better than I. What I want to talk about is the radio aspect of the cuts.

I listen to a lot of ESPN's radio programming (mostly through podcasts). When you spend an hour and 45 minutes (pod time, three hours real time) with someone everyday, they become familiar, almost like you know them.

Ryen Russillo was on vacation when the cuts happened. One of the cuts was his radio partner, Danny Kanell. Russillo addressed this on his radio show today (5/1/17). One of the things that hit me was when he said that radio is more intimate. Now, he was speaking specifically to his work relationship in which he would spend four to five hours a day, five days a week with his co-host. But this also extends to the listeners.

I had a brief Twitter exchange with Sarah Spain after one of her co-hosts on The Trifecta, Jane McManus, was a victim of the cuts, about the intimacy that radio provides. She agreed that it doesn't happen with TV or print. Radio is different. It's more personal.

Scott Van Pelt is great. I catch his late night SportsCenter from time to time. I miss him on the radio when it was the SVP and Russillo show. That show coincidentally, really got me hooked on the intimacy of radio. It became familiar and if one listened long enough, the inside jokes became inside jokes that you get.

The best radio not only lets you get a piece of the hosts' lives, but also introduces a cast of characters that make the show seem even more intimate. When the producers and board ops are given an occasional voice, or become a part of the show, it makes it feel almost familial.

I first got in tune with the ensemble dynamic listening to SVP and Russillo with Stanford Steve, Quinnipiac Steve and Outsider Mike (now best known as Mikey C). Then I found the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz and the shipping container. Music snob/producer Mike Ryan is doing his own show with music rejoins. Each member has their own role.

i don't have the same connection with the reporters and SportsCenter hit people. I don't wish for anyone to lose their job, but the radio people hit me more than others.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Album Spotlight: Angaleena Presley - Wrangled

With the release of her second solo album Wrangled, Angaleena Presley has nailed it. For me anyway. I've noticed that this record has been fairly polarizing. People either love it or wanted American Middle Class (her first solo album) part two and didn't get it.

Presley has been writing songs for years and gained notoriety as one third of the Pistol Annies along with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe. That's just for context, the important thing here is that Wrangled is an amazing piece of work.

My purpose here is to spotlight albums that I find great, unique and, most importantly, have only one or fewer skip-worthy songs according to me, not to review a whole slew of albums and give my opinion. I'll get to the great things about Wrangled in a moment, but I first want to focus on the only skip-worthy song on the album for me. It also happens to be the most polarizing song on the album.

"Country" featuring Yelawolf, in and of itself, is a terrible song without context. Even with context, as a song, it still does nothing for me. It's a protest song about the current state of mainstream country (radio in particular) and music row. Maybe the point was to make an unlistenable song, I don't know. If it was, Angaleena and Yelawolf succeeded. It's just a bad mashup of punk and rap done poorly. I listen to music to enjoy music, not for social commentary (although if you can combine the two, I'm not opposed to that).

Good for Presley for getting people talking about this song, I guess. Not my thing.

Now, on to the rest of the albums, which is fantastic. Angaleena spends the rest of the album tackling a myriad of subjects with depth and humor. At times pairing dark subjects with upbeat music, sometimes the reverse. The listener doesn't exactly know what to expect from track to track, other than Presley will keep it real.

You may love it, you may hate it, you may not know exactly what to make of it, but you won't be indifferent. I think, as an artist, that's the best you can expect unless you're universally loved. And we all know, that really doesn't happen.

Here is my favorite track from Wrangled.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Album Spotlight: Night Ranger - Don't Let Up

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you already know, if you're new, let me enlighten you. I only write about stuff I like. I don't have the time to listen to, much less, write about stuff I don't like. That being said, Night Ranger's new album Don't Let Up is excellent. Now I'm going to go off on a tangent before I get back to that album.

I grew up in the 80s, and by that I mean twelve to 22 years old. That's growing up time. Night Ranger always fell into a strange place in music. Historically they might get lumped in with the hair/sleaze/glam bands of the time. But it always felt like they were not at home there. They also weren't at home with other stuff that was popular at the time, Flock of Seagulls, Eurythmics, etc. They fell into a weird place between metal and techno (not that they ever came close to techno, but that's where they fell).

There were a lot of bands in that grey place, Bon Jovi, INXS, The Cult, Duran Duran, Def Leppard, etc. The 80s get a bad rap, but go back and listen to the music, there was a lot of good there.

While never reaching the commercial success, I've always thought Night Ranger was comparable to Bon Jovi: guitar driven hard rock that was softened enough to be palatable to the masses.

Fast forward to 2017. Night Ranger is still making that kind of music. Great songs featuring guitar, big choruses, big harmonies. This album Don't Let Up, along with their 2014 album High Road may be the best they've done in their career. Not that anyone will pay attention.

I just commend Night Ranger for putting out new music when so many of that era just tour based on their track record, which Night Ranger could certainly do. Hell, people would probably come out just to hear "Sister Christian".  But they are so much more than that.

Sure, age has taken its toll on Jack Blades and Kelly Keagey's vocal chords, but even though a bit gruffer, still sound excellent. The musicianship just keeps getting better. And that's saying something since guitarist Brad Gillis could have had a gig with Ozzy had he chosen.

35 years after the release of their debut album Dawn Patrol, Night Ranger are still bringing it and staying true to what they do. More mature? Sure. What you would expect. Rocks? Yep. And they keep expanding their boundaries. One song that stands out is the honky-tonk/Southern rock sound of "(Won't Be Your) Fool Again".

With so many bands not making new music because there is no money in it now, I commend the one's who still have to scratch that creative itch. Buy, stream, download, whatever you do, this album. It's good. Is it great? Probably not, but there is not a bad song to be found. And really, isn't that what we want in an album? No skipworthy songs?

Here's a taste of the new album:


Saturday, March 25, 2017

EP Spotlight: Delta Rae - A Long And Happy Life

As the weather warms up in late March, it is the perfect time for light, fun music. With their latest EP A Long And Happy Life, Delta Rae delivers.

A Long And Happy Life is just four songs, but four very good songs. Including the slower, more introspective "No Peace In Quiet". The other three are fun, upbeat and perfect for the changing of the season.

Is there anything groundbreaking here? Nope. Just four excellent songs that I've had on repeat for the past two days. There is just something infectious about the songs and the twin lead vocals and interplay of Britanny Holljes (pronounced "Hole-Jess) and Liz Hopkins.

Do I prefer nine to eleven song albums? Yes. But if you're going to make a four song EP, do it like this or like Lindi Ortega's. Make sure every song is killer and you have my attention.

Find A Long And Happy Life here:

itunes
Google Play
Amazon
Spotify


Monday, March 20, 2017

EP Spotlight: Lindi Ortega - Til the Goin' Gets Gone

I first found out about Lindi Ortega and her 2015 album Faded Gloryville. A great album. With Ortega's latest release, a four song EP Til the Goin' Gets Gone, there is none of the quirky playfulness found on  Gloryville or her previous release, Tin Star.

Ortega went through some stuff, moved back to her native Canada, leaving Nashville behind. From what I understand, she almost quit music altogether. The four songs on the EP are dark, brooding, somewhat cynical, introspective. There is some real heavy stuff packed into a small package.

And you know what? This is Lindi Orega's best work. I don't know where she goes from here. Maybe it's a catharsis which leads to something else. Maybe it's a farewell. Whatever it is, it needs to be listened to and celebrated.

The closing song is called "Final Bow". I hope it's not.

I can't equate this to anything, really, but I hope it follows the same trajectory as Butch Walker. Afraid of Ghosts was similar in it's introspection and darkness, then followed by the upbeat Stay Gold.

Who knows what is in store for Lindi Ortega going forward, but we will all be poorer if this is the last music she makes.

I purposefully didn't go into specific songs. Everyone needs to relate to them in their own way, but every song will relate to you in some way.