Dustin O'Halloran -- Piano Solos, Volume 2 (Filter Recordings)
Sonically, there is a close relationship between what Dustin O’Halloran is doing with his Piano Solos, Vol 2 (I haven’t heard Vol 1) and what Roger Eno has done with his remarkable collages of piano music over several albums. If you have had the pleasure of hearing Roger Eno (a sibling of Brian Eno) and his dream-soaked piano pieces as heard on Voices (EG Records), itself a little hard to locate anymore, then you have an idea of what Dustin O’Halloran is doing. Although the dreamy atmosphere of Voices is not too evident on Piano Solos, Vol 2, it does have a melancholy theme running though it. There are 11 piano pieces, all titled “opus xx”, with xx being a set of double-digit numbers. There is the soft “opus 23,” the reflective “opus 26”…well, you get the idea. I recommend this album for those moments when you need some time to yourself, and you need a soundtrack to accompany you. We’ve all had those periods; with music like this (and Eno’s incredible Voices), you’re never really alone.
“opus 23” can be heard in the film, “Marie Anoinette,” which stars Kristen Dunst and is directed by Sofia Coppola.
The Panda Band -- This Vital Chapter (Filter Recordings)
With a big production mindset and hands deep into the pockets of the Sgt Pepper/Magical Mystery Tour musical mentality, The Panda Band gives a satisfying romp into the explorative areas of the late ‘60s, Beatles-wise and the latest trend to find that same musical space but with new twists.
They utilize horns like tuba, trumpet, trombone, sax and clarinet, as well as strings like violin, viola, and cello. Of course, the traditional rock instruments are there and so there is a nice blend of music going on over 12 tracks.
If you have an affectation for any Beatles material in those mentioned periods, you’ll find interesting material here from these Aussies. And none of this is accidental because they intend to remind. Damn, if I don’t find myself revisiting this album quite a few times because it is catchy.
Scissor Sisters -- Ta-Dah (Universal/Motown)
I admit to it. I got immediately caught up in the funkiness of it all with the first song of Ta-Dah from Scissor Sisters, “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’.” With an assist from Elton John on piano, and the high-powered vocal assuredness from cutie, Ana Matronic, who, by the way, brings a higher level of fun to the band, Scissor Sisters have matured tremendously. With the song bringing lots of disco elements as well as the pop stuff from the ‘70s, it can get contagious. Now, I’ve never jumped into the Disco Fever of the ‘70s, but I would be lying if I said that there weren’t a few interesting songs from that era and genre. Hell, most of us would be lying.
By the time, Ta-Dah graduates into the 2nd song, the “ambiguously” tinted song, “She’s My Man”, well the band is definitely underway into a haze of high-falutin’ dance-pop that will bring back the disco memories, good or bad, to a whole generation of music lovers. The production is top-notch, the musicians professional, the music fun, and the songs mature. While the style may not be the cup of tea for everyone, know this, Scissor Sisters are not ‘wannabes’. They are the real thing and deserve their moment in the spotlight. If they were doing this in the ‘70s, they might have been the pinnacles of the style.
Recommended for the fun-lovers.
Joshua Radin -- We Were Here (Columbia Records)
It’s refreshing to hear a bona fide singer-songwriter approach the same sacred shores of reflections that have been visited in times past by some of our legendary singer-songwriters. It’s an art that few can work magic out of, and those that do, end up in the history books as timeless troubadours. Of course, this is the debut release for Josh Radin, one that he admirably begins his career with, but only time will tell if he has a seat with the great clan of folk/rock singer-songwriters.
With a flair for words and a breathy, ever-so-slight vocoder-like vocal delivery, Josh Radin, already a veteran of movies and TV series soundtracks, sounds like a latter-day Simon and Garfunkel, especially noticeable as early as the second song of his Columbia debut, We Were Here. He sings about doubts, life musings, searches for answers, and desires, all in a compact 35-minutes of tenderness.
With so much music all a blast of alternative crunch and grind, it’s nice to know that there are still performers that understand the value of quiet moments. Using the soft music provided by acoustic guitars, cello, and piano, Josh Radin turns in a reflective work that gives pause in a life that moves pretty fast, too fast to do the kind of deep introspection that is cathartic to our barrage of “on the go” emotional assaults.
I’m looking forward to his next album.
Goldenboy -- underneath the radio (Eenie Meenie Records)
It sometimes amazes me as to how some excellent talent manages to escape the notice of the majors. Of course, in most cases, escaping the majors will likely net you more royalties but the distribution isn’t as large. Regardless, the majors have missed Goldenboy. Every once in a while, I hear an album that is worth all of its hype, and Goldenboy’s underneath the radio is one of those. Following up their 2002 album, Blue Swan Orchestra, with a strong new album filled with all of the elements that proselytizes rock n roll.
This remarkable duo based in Diamond Bar, CA (I have to check these guys out in a show) remind of a mix of OMD, and other ‘80s bands but with a feel for the new century in place. With 12 tracks of solid Eels-like music, you’d be hard pressed to find things that you don’t like on this album. The music is laid back, with a twinge of thoughtful melancholy, but with all of the talent to back up every note played and every lyric sung.
I’d characterize Underneath The Radio as a brilliant piece of work. I’m a full-fledged Goldenboy fan. Good luck to Eenie Meenie Records…great pickup.
Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton -- Knives Don't Have Your Back (Last Gang Records)
This look at life’s lesser moments is the flow of Emily Haines’ latest release. In this book-cased album, she runs through 11 songs of heartbreak, despair, sadness, and dejected resolve. Upon opening the book, there is a clinical drawing of a heart pierced through with arrows, a key indicator of the musical content found on the album. With a dominant piano and Hammond organ (so glad to hear these things making a comeback in music these days) a la Coldplay and Keane, but with much colder elements in place, Emily Haines does a good job of expression and lyrical painting. But the music is contagious, the lyrics expressive, and she can capture your imagination easily enough.
Massive Attack -- Collected (Virgin/EMI)
This Virgin collection of Massive Attack songs are collected works, slivered from the band’s years of trip-hop dance music, much of it some very good material. The music, overlaid by consistent dance rhythms, is dark and yet accessible with a range of instrumental experimentation. Massive Attack has had many guests joining them on their albums including Madonna (“I Want You”), Elizabeth Fraser (from Cocteau Twins – “Black Melt,” “Teardrop”), Sinead O’Connor (“What Your Soul Sings”) and Mos Def (the immediately recognizable “I Against I”, prominently heard in the second Blade film).
All of these songs and more are collected here and cased in a collector’s book with 2 discs, the first a CD compilation, augmented by a 2nd disc, a DualDisc collection that expands graciously with more songs (new and rare cuts) on the CD layer and plenty of videos on the DVD side. If you’re a fan of styled trip-hop, you cannot go wrong here; there’s plenty of repeatable rotation from this collection.
John Alexander Ericson -- Black Clockworks (Kalinkaland Records)
Fans of the soft and melancholy will find Black Clockworks ticking along to their tastes. Filled with the use of soft “what’s the use” blues and disseminated through piano, harmonica, the occasional flute, and tender harmonies, this solo album from John Alexander Ericson (originally with The Northern Territories), will fill the air with his ‘lighter than spirit’ dwellings and a penchant for the quiet notes.
The title song, “Black Clockworks” begins the album, and “Where Secrets Can’t Be Found” ends it, both on somber notes. In between those two songs sits 7 more tracks that will remind fans of Eno’s EG Records signings, particularly Roger Eno in music. “The Twilight Star” is an excellent track that uses the minimalist effect of the piano, accompanied by a mournful harmonica, and harmonic vocals. I particularly love the “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” harmonica (Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park) that begins “Radioactivity.” It gives the album strength, proving that it is much more than an all-piano and mournful vocals gothic work.
Dan Pound -- Impressions (Self Released)
It is good when independently produced works, those that lack even the alternative label support, spring up and show some bite. Dan Pound, whose self-released Impressions is a collection of Tangerine Dream/ Steve Roach/vidna Obmana-like soundscapes that employ the same spacey sounds, all generated by computers. If a suggestion can be offered it is this, with ambient works, the usage of themes, even if not implied, push the music further and is longer lasting.
Impressions uses an Altoids-like approach in that you can pull out a tune for the moment and enjoy the effect that it supplies.
One Meat Ball -- The Album~The Cookbooklet (Appleseed Records)
When you have seen everything that Rock ‘n’ Roll has to offer, Appleseed Records and Christine Lavin stirs things up (literally) with a combination “cookbooklet” filled with recipes in a keeper spiral-bound collection, and a CD filled with food-themed folk songs. This interesting set was compiled by tagging a contributor’s song with their favourite recipe that ranges from “Blueberry Pancakes,” (yes, it’s a song as well – this one sung by Annie Bauerlein and Chip Mergott, and a “tasty” one at that) to “Maple Syrup Time” (a Pete Seeger tune sung by the master and his grandson with the accompanying recipe on how to make your own maple syrup provided by Ed Engleman.)
The collection continues with “Root Beer for Breakfast” from R&B/Jazz artist, Vance Gilbert; a charming tune from poet Marcia Pelletiere, “Betrothal”; and “Tomato Puddin’” from Jeff Daniels (the actor), who contributes his mother’s recipe for the same.
This collection of food-related songs and their accompanying recipes is one that veers around the dial with songs that are jazz, some that are folk, some that are bluesy, R&B, and pop. There is a song that I particularly liked from Sally Fingerett (Four Bitchin’ Babes) and Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”) called “Ten Pound Bass” as well as the reggae-flavoured “The Heartbreak Diet” from Julie Gold.
All in all, if you have a tug in your heart for Americana music, then this Christine Lavin collected set, with its book of recipes and an included grip tool for opening those well-sealed lids (with all of the artists on this compile listed on this multi-use grip-tool) is a welcome purchase.
Lemme see, 15 Second Chocolate Mousse or Custard Pie…damn, the choices…
Exit Clov -- Respond Respond (Livewire Recordings)
This boy/girl band (2 boys/2 girls) has much in common with the sound of Leigh Nash (Sixpence None the Richer) and The Go-Gos but with a twist. The girls, known as Emily and Susan, use not only their chosen instruments but also employ the use of violin in the sound style of the above-mentioned bands. The music is catchy pop and makes this 6-song EP a fun way to spend a half-hour. With early ‘80s pop as their influence, exit clov does a good job of it. They would make a helluva intro band for The Go-Gos. Really!
Del Castillo -- Brotherhood (Smilin' Castle Records)
I’m quite late with this one because, like other Latin markets, I’m lost to Spanish musical styles. But this band of 6 mix a brand of rock with the more traditional flamenco guitar sounds to produce some intriguing and memorable music. With a large amount of their music a part of the Rodrigues film, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, this band has already crept into your ears. Now that you know this, you’ll likely say (if you saw the film) “oh, yeahhh, wondered who they were.”
Brotherhood is an excellent album that swerves from a traditional Spanish style song, like “Perdoname,” to the rockier title song, “Brotherhood.” There are many excellent songs on this album that include the Willie Nelson vocal guested “I Never Cared For You” and the harder-edged rock tune, “Si, Mi Amor.”
The bottom line is that I have to apologize to not having reviewed this album earlier than now. It never made it to the “no” pile, instead making many, many trips with me everywhere I went until I had to break and go with what I could. Yes, folks, it’s that good.
The Purrs -- The Purrs (Sarathan Records)
I’ve been falling in love with music a lot more than I usually do lately. With the help and under girding of some new music that explores the past so expertly that some of them might have had a strong career if slipped back into the ‘60s/’70s, I seem to identify lots more. The debut album from The Purrs, their self-titled body of music that sounds like a stretched bar between early Stones in the ‘60s and yet coming off sounding like a wired Johnny Thunders before the heroin absorbed his being. It also has the heart of the late ‘60s Stones at its core.
The Purrs contains 9 tracks of original flashback rock that won’t be ignored. With a bit of psychedelia creeping in some of the songs, as was somewhat prevalent with album-oriented rock in the waning years of the ‘60s, a listen to “Ebb and Flow,” the brilliant “Because I Want To,” and the equally good, "Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of."
Every bit of The Purrs’ album is excellent.