Chickenfoot – album review – Hagar – Satriani

After recently reading some of the leaked excerpts from Sammy Hagar’s unpublished book about his years with Van Halen, I’m personally glad to see Hagar (along with Michael Anthony) getting some good buzz with the new supergroup called Chickenfoot . According to the excerpts from the book, Alex and Eddie Van Halen are extremely petty and paranoid and pretty much gave Hagar and Anthony the shaft at the end of their stint with the legendary rock group. Of course the book is a one-sided account of what went on behind the livejasmin cams scenes but whatever the truth may be, it’s just good to see Hagar and Anthony back in the spotlight. The band is made up of some stellar players including guitar-god Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Chad Smith on drums. Supergroups like these tend to all look good on paper so the real test is the MUSIC and fortunately for us the new record ROCKS.

ChickenFoot isn’t about re-inventing the wheel. It’s obvious that the goal was to make an accessible guitar-based rock record in the vein of Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. And thankfully the group delivered the goods. Folks were probably expecting some sort of trainwreck with all the big egos involved here but the group really DOES sound like they gel together nicely. Smith is a fantastic drummer laying down some tasty grooves with Anthony holding down the low end as solidly as ever. Satriani manages to rein things in, going back to basics with crunchy riffs and melodic leads during the solo sections. And Hagar can still do those blood-curdling screams at the age of 61! amazing. The album contains many highlights including “Down the Drain”, “Sexy Little Thing”, “Soap on a Rope” and the power ballad “Learning to Fall”.

The refreshing thing is hearing a band playing together live in the studio with minimal overdubs and NO click-track. It’s a bit jarring to hear the tempo naturally ebb and flow in this day & age of tempo mapping and quantizing in pro-tools. but for a rock record, there’s no better way to capture a band in action. Oh and I gotta give kudos to producer Andy Johns and engineer Mike Fraser. The recording sounds fantastic with crisp definition of each instrument and great punch down on the low end. Unfortunately, I have to take points off for some lousy lyrics but with music this good, I’ll overlook it for the most part.

The other side of Asia: John Payne

For those that can’t make it to see 80’s supergroup Asia open for Yes on tour this summer, there’s still an alternative. Many fans of the original Asia lineup may not be aware that there’s another version of Asia touring the U.S. this summer: Asia Featuring John Payne. Yes, I know some may feel that this configuration of the band is the inferior of the two but whatever the case may be, Payne was responsible for a number of decent tunes in the Asia back catalog. As a matter of fact, Payne (along with original member from released eight studio albums as “Asia” between 1992 and 2004. I personally thought that Asia “mark II” hit their stride when they released Silent Nation in 2004 featuring the talents of Guthrie Guvan on guitar and Chris Slade on drums.

But things went south for Payne’s band when Downes decided to reunite with John Wetton, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer to tour as “Original Asia” in 2006. I’m not really clear on who owns the rights to the name “Asia” but there seems to be an agreement that Payne can still use the name “Asia” as long as it’s followed by “featuring John Payne”. Personally, I’d rather see Payne break free of the Asia name altogether and just focus on his other band GPS (which includes Guvan and Jay Schellen) but it seems that concert promoters are more willing to put up the money for a band called “Asia” than the lesser known “GPS” even though Payne, Guvan and Schellen play in both bands. So anyway, for those that aren’t familiar with John Payne’s work with Asia, I thought I’d post one of my favorites by Payne titled “Long Way From Home”.

Mandy Moore – Amanda Leigh – CD review

You have to admire Mandy Moore for sticking to her guns and creating the music she wants to make. I’m pretty sure Moore had some opposition when she decided to turn her back on being a “Britney-clone” to immerse herself in the retro-realm of 70’s singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Harry Nilsson. You could just imagine all of her advisors setting up Jasminlive meetings with pie-charts and graphs displaying the vast decrease in media exposure by not going the pop-princess route. I personally thought it was some sort of gimmick when she released her Coverage album back in 2003. I really couldn’t fathom someone who sang the pop tune “Candy” would be so into the works of Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson and Elton John. But after Wild Hope in 2007 and now her most recent album, Amanda Leigh, she has proven to me that she has been pretty sincere about her influences.

I’ve been listening to Amanda Leigh for a month now and I’m taken by how effortlessly melodic the songs are. I believe a lot of the credit has to go to Mike Viola. The melodies, the chord progressions and instrumentation are very well done here. The album is a full-on homage to all those 70’s artists Moore seems to love so much, right down to the sound of the recordings and even the use of the harpsichord (which you don’t hear much on recordings these days). The album opens with what I’d consider the best song in the set, “Merrimack River”. The song is so strong, Viola and Moore decided to include a reprise of the melody later on in the album. It’s good to hear Moore’s voice having more depth and nuance than in previous efforts. She still doesn’t have the vocal chops of others in her field but I’m glad to see the development nonetheless. As a big Todd Rundgren fan, I can hear the Todd influences (intentional or not) in songs like “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week” and “Indian Summer”. Other highlights include “Fern Dell” and her collaboration with Lori Mckenna, “Everblue”.

The Lou Gramm Band – CD review

Lou Gramm is a true rock and roll survivor. The man had grappled with a brain tumor for goodness sakes! Unfortunately after going through all of that, Gramm isn’t the same as he once was. He has gained a bit a weight, lost the recognizable quality in his voice and is now a born-again Christian. In fact, Gramm’s most recent album, The Lou Gramm Band is what you would classify as a “Christian Rock” album. Big props to Gramm for having the balls to go the less commercial route. I mean, can you imagine the meetings he must of had with his business managers pleading with him to release something that could be more marketable to the “Foreigner/classic rock” crowd? In any case, what’s done is done and I’m sure Gramm meant well. But in my opinion, this is not the “comeback” record we’ve all been waiting for. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with Christian music and I personally listen to a number of different Christian artists like Lincoln Brewster, Israel Houghton and Michael Gungor. The problem here mainly stems from the material. It’s simply not strong enough.

Aside from the track, “Baptized by Fire” (which is pretty good), the majority of the songs are filled with generic chord progressions and cliched lyrics. To compound the problem, Gramm makes some cringe-worthy choices on several of the tracks. Take for instance “Single Vision”. It’s a solid rocker with a nice enough hook but he totally ruins it by including a hokie spoken-word interlude pleading to some unknown entity to not take “the Lord from the classrooms”. WTF. Other cheesy moments include “That’s the Way God Planned It” (which sounds like something you’d hear on a local cable access broadcast of a southern baptist worship service), “So Great” (sounds a bit like old-school worship leader Graham Kendrick from the 80’s) and “You Saved Me” (almost a Meat Loaf parody but in a bad way). So for now, if I’m in need of a Lou Gramm fix, I’ll simply pull out his 1989 classic Long Hard Look.

CD Review – Good Evening New York City marred by auto-tune

I’ve been listening to the newly released two-disc audio CDs of Paul McCartney’s Good Evening New York City this week and I have to say that I’m pretty disappointed by the blatant use of auto-tune (pitch correction software) on Paul’s vocals. yes, I understand that auto-tune is pretty much standard practice nowadays in the pop music industry but for an iconic voice as Paul’s, the tell-tale signs of auto-tune just ruins for me. I personally would have preferred bum-notes and all for this live document of McCartney’s July 2009 gigs at Citi Field in NYC. We all know McCartney is 67 and his voice isn’t what it used to be so we don’t expect his vocals to be perfect. So why try to artificially make it so in post-production? I can accept Sir Paul going back into the studio to overdub vocal parts because that’s the nature of the beast (and he’s done that with past releases like Wings over America and Tripping the Live Fantastic) but to utilize auto-tune (or Melodyne, another pitch correction tool) and make Paul sound like a cyborg, is a big mistake if you ask me. The tell-tale signs vary throughout the performance with some songs being more heavily treated than others. Listen for it on songs like “Got to Get You Into My Life”, “Let it Be”, “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Paperback Writer”. Again, some folks may not know what to listen for so this may not be a bother to some ears but it sure does bother mine. I’m personally going to seek out the audio of the pay-per-view broadcast of Paul’s show in Halifax (11Jul09). From what I’ve heard, McCartney and band sounded great that night and the BIG PLUS is the fact that it’s a more TRUTHFUL document of his show with NO auto-tune to mar the experience!

But if you can get past the artificial quality of Paul’s vocals, there are some positives. The band sounds tight and it’s great to hear songs like “Mrs. Vandebilt”, “I’m Down”, “Calico Skies” and “Only Mama Knows”. And the “Sgt. Peppers/The End” combo is always a great way to end the show. You can’t go wrong there. Another positive is the fact that the CD isn’t mastered “loud”. No signs of brickwalling here, thank goodness.

Before I end this, I DO have to mention one more thing which has to do with Wix’s synth patches. Wix has been with Paul since the 1989 tour and from the sound of it, he hasn’t updated his keyboard sounds since that time. I assume that sampling technology has progressed during the time since then but his “horn” samples in songs like “Got to Get You Into My Life” and his “sax synth” solo during “Lady Madonna” sound just like it did on the first tour. In other words, the synths sound dated now. ..and a bit cheesy. Weird, since I’m sure Wix can afford all the newest gear. so what gives?

I haven’t had a chance to view the DVD portion of this release in any detail but I suspect the visual aspect will help take the focus off the auto-tuned vocals. Well, at least I hope so, anyway.

Sting – A Winter’s Night – Live DVD

Around this time every year, the market is saturated with Christmas albums done by well known recording artists. From rock to country, jazz and R&B, it’s highly probably that your very own favorite performer released a “seasonal album” at some point in their career. Hell, even Bob Dylan put one out this year.

Not to be outdone, British rock icon Sting has recently released his own seasonal recording titled If on a Winter’s Night. Thankfully Sting didn’t go the typical route of covering the same ol’ yuletide fare that countless of other artists have done over the years. He dug deep and unearthed ancient carols, folk-songs and lullabies from the British Isles. It’s an intriguing collection that challenges the listener with, at times, dark imagery and a somber mood.

If you’re looking for sugary-sweet holiday music, look elsewhere. But if you want thought-provoking and an ultimately rewarding meditation on the winter season, be sure to pick this album up.

On a related note, Sting is also releasing a live performance of the new album on DVD titledSting: A Winter’s Night… Live from Durham Cathedral. Filmed this past September near his hometown of Newcastle, Sting performs the bulk of “If on a Winter’s Night” along with some extra material not on the album including “Ghost Story”, “Bethelehem Down” and “I Saw Three Ships”.

Deutsche Grammophon will be releasing the 2-DVD set on November 24. And be sure to catch a special edition of this concert as part of the Great Performancesseries on PBS on Thanksgiving night (Thursday, November 26, 9pm EST, local schedules may vary).

Bill Champlin – No Place Left to Fall

After listening to Bill Champlin’s latest album No Place Left to Fall, I think I now understandwhy he left Chicago. Champlin sounds so free and alive on this record. Chicago had become creatively stagnant, releasing only two albums worth of new material in the last twenty years. I’m sure the steady income from touring was nice and all but playing the same set year after year probably took its toll on Champlin. The new album is full of energy and ideas and it’s an absolute joy to listen to. It’s Champlin at his finest, running the full gamut of styles from laidback funk/R&B (Total Control, Tugging at your Sleeve) to acoustic pop (Look Away), gospel (Looking for You) to Chicago-esque ballads (Never Been Afraid, All Along).

The musicianship here is top notch with Champlin on keyboards & Hammond B-3, Bruce Gaitsch on guitar, Billy Ward on drums and George Hawkins Jr. on bass. The standout track for me is “No Place Left to Fall”. It’s tastefully restrained with Champlin and band holding back and keeping things at its bare minimum during the whole track. I love that tension that is built during the song and really serves the track well. It takes a truly mature musician to know not to “play out” on every song.

Goldfrapp – Head First

After their left turn into folk-pop in 2008, Allison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory are now back on the dance floor (albeit 80’s style) with their new album Head First. The set opens up with anod and a wink to 80’s-era Olivia Newton John (as well as a synth patch straight out of Van Halen’s “Jump”) titled “Rocket”. The song’s got a huge hook and sets the tone for the rest of the album that takes us on a journey back to the days of neon spandex and legwarmers. Allison’s voice is captivating and sultry as ever and Will’s clever arrangements are always fun to hear.

Standouts include: “Alive”, “Rocket” and “I Wanna Life”. My personal favorite is “Dreaming” which features a Kate Bush vibe with Vince Clarke/Erasure-type keyboard parts.

The only misstep here is that the 80’s nostalgia (i.e. new wave synths, retro drum sounds) ends up overshadowing some of the songs and almost brings things down into the realm of parody. Also the second half of the album drags a bit with melody lines and chord progressions becoming too derivative of other works from Abstract album closer “Voicething” compounds the problem by ending things on an incomplete note. But I’m being picky here. Overall, it’s an enjoyable album to listen to and I’m sure Goldfrapp fans worldwide will be snapping up this release in a hurry.

The Go-Go’s say goodbye – Happily Ever After – The Farewell Tour

30 YEARS AFTER MAKING MUSIC HISTORY, THE GO-GO’S TO SAY GOODBYE LOS ANGELES, CA – After 30 years together and a slew of chart-topping songs that defined an era, the Go-Go’s announce Happily Ever After – The Farewell Tour. Happily Ever After kicks off July 7, 2010 at Lilith Fair in San Diego, wraps up July 27 in Austin, and will include a live television performance on Good Morning America, July 16 in New York City.

In 1981, the Go-Go’s delivered Beauty And The Beat hot on the heels of their debut U.S. single “Our Lips Are Sealed.” The album garnered double-platinum status, reaching number one and becoming the first to top the Billboard charts by an all-female band that wrote and performed their own songs. 1982’s Vacation and 1984’s Talk Show continued their chart and radio successes and cemented the Go-Go’s as one of the most iconic and beloved groups of the 80s. The Go-Go’s released a much-celebrated anthology, Return to the Valley of The Go-Go’s in 1994, and 2001 marked the last studio album of new material, God Bless The Go-Go’s.

Their story truly is a punk version of the American Dream. They came, they saw and they conquered the charts and airwaves with their kicky kitsch and sparkling California appeal. Their smash hits, such as “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels,” and the aforementioned “Our Lips Are Sealed,” along with countless magazine covers, television performances, and high-profile concert tours, turned Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock and Kathy Valentine into certified rock stars, and five feisty role models for generations of ready-to-rock girls. From their halcyon days as America’s sweethearts to their current status as superstars who pioneered a genre, the Go-Go’s preside over an amazing three-decade reign as high priestesses of pop.

Today, with the original lineup intact, the Go-Go’s live show continues to deliver every bit of the raw energy of their now-legendary punk beginnings, tempered with the wisdom of three decades of pop perfection. Don’t miss them on this farewell tour as they celebrate with, and say goodbye to, their devoted fans, before the Go-Go’s head into the happily ever after.

Concord to reissue entire McCartney back catalog on CD and mp3

Concord Music Group just announced that they’ve acquired the rights to Paul McCartney’s back catalog. As a long time McCartney fan, I’m a bit worried about the upcoming reissues. Sir Macca’s extensive catalog has been neglected over the years and is in need of some TLC. EMI totally botched the 1993 remastered series by “no-noising” the heck out of the recordings. Yes, the bonus tracks included on the 1993 CDs were nice but the lifeless and dull sounding reissues left fans scrambling to find the original CBS/Columbia CDs which weren’t perfect but on the whole, sounded better than those dreaded EMI/Capitol remasters.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s great that McCartney’s post Beatles solo work will get some much needed attention. But I’m hoping Concord will mirror what was done for the Beatles catalog. A tremendous amount of time and effort was put into the Beatles remastering project and the resulting CDs are miles beyond the original 1987 CDs. Maybe realistically they won’t have the resources to replicate what was done for The Beatles reissues but the least that Concord can do is to make sure the remasters aren’t “loud and brickwalled” which marred Concord’s 2007 McCartney release, Memory Almost Full. Talk about an “ear-bleeder”. yikes.

Most Macca fans feel the benchmark in terms of sound quality are the DCC reissues expertly handled by Steve Hoffman (which included the albums McCartney, Ram, Band on the Run, Red Rose Speedway, Venus and Mars and Wings at the Speed of Sound). Hopefully someone at Concord will take note of how those were done. And while Concord is at it, why not finally release a box set of Macca rarities?? Now that’s what fans are really waiting for!

Yes – Madison Square Garden – 1994 – NYC – Talk tour

The neat thing about Yes‘ 1994 Talk Tour was the implementation of “ConcertSonics” at all their U.S. shows. ConcertSonics was an experimental way to transmit the audio mix for the live audience to listen to simply by using their own personal FM receiver and headphones. Ultimately the technology didn’t catch on primarily due to the fact that the actual live sound in the venue overpowered any audio coming from the lil’ headphones. BUT it was an absolute boon for tapers!! Just attach a recorder of some kind to the FM receiver and voila, easy access/recording of a FM quality feed of the soundboard mix of the show. So as you can imagine, the whole U.S. tour was well documented with boots and fan-made tapes of practically every show.

One of my favorite recordings from this tour is the 9/10/94 show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. I’m not sure if it was due to it being in New York or because it was the last U.S. date of the Talk Tour or a bit of both but the band was tight and firing on all cylinders. You can definitely hear the difference in the performance when you compare it to one of the shows at the start of the tour (… but I guess you can say that about pretty much any tour.heh.) Anyway, Trevor Rabin particularly seems to be at his “A” game here. Amazing guitar solos throughout especially on the epic song “Endless Dream”. Yes, Rabin gets a bit self-indulgent with his needless piano solo before “And You and I” but he’s truly mindblowing on guitar.

As for the recording, it’s “FM radio quality” with a bit of static reception at a couple points around the beginning of the recording but still very good overall. Also the audio is heavily limited/compressed just like a radio broadcast so a lot of the big dynamics are missing. In other words, the drum sounds are “squashed” and Chris Squire’s bass isn’t deep and low like it should. But that’s just the audiophile in me talking. In any case, this boot is still a favorite in my collection.