Monday, December 29, 2008

Questions For The New Year

Could 2009 be the year that CDs finally make a profit? Could 2009 be the year that the Grateful Dead reunite for a tour? Could 2009 be the year that we finally get to hear the unreleased "Carnival of Light" sound collage by The Beatles?

These are only a few of the many questions that this new year holds for us. Some of the more definite answers are that Bruce Springsteen will be releasing his 16th studio album just days before he headlines the Super Bowl half-time show February 1st. Also in February, Neil Young will hopefully be releasing his "decade in the making" Archives Vol. 1 box set. The box set contains rare and unreleased material from Neil Young's personal archives spanning the years 1963-1972.

The month of March is highlighted by the release of the new U2 album entitled, "No Line On The Horizon" and by the reformation of Phish. Phish will play their first live show together since 2004. We can only hope that a full fledge tour will also be in the near future. Let's not forget, 2009 should bring new albums by the Dave Matthews Band, Wilco, Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, Tim McGraw, ZZ Top and possibly Kiss. Who will have the biggest selling album of 2009?

As far as new music based video games, last year we had Guitar Hero: Aerosmith (which made the band a cool $25 million in sales), but in 2009 we will finally get Guitar Hero: Metallica. Fans will be able to play guitar and drums and even sing some of your all-time favorite Metallica songs in the courtesy of your own home. But, Rock Band does not want to be outdone by constantly providing full album downloads including Pearl Jam's debut "Ten". The big question is what to expect from the first video game to feature the music of The Beatles. All I know is that I want it.

And speaking of Beatles, will 2009 be the year that the remastered versions of all of their original albums be released? 2009 is sounding like it's going to put a hole in my pocket, but hopefully the prices for these wonderful releases aren't outragous. We'll just have to wait and see what the answers are to these questions and more.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Favorite Albums of 2008

As 2008 draws to a close, I would like to look back at the year of new releases. Some bands released their best album of the last 10 years, while other bands continue to improve upon each new album. Here I present my favorite albums of 2008.

1. Metallica - Death Magnetic: This is the album that Metallica fans have been waiting for since "And Justice For All". A return to their heavy metal roots. This album features some of the best music the band has made in almost 20 years. Producer Rick Rubin helped the band find their direction and reaffirm their identity as the premier heavy metal group. James Hetfield's voice and Kirk Hammett's guitar playing is the best it's been in years. The rhythm section of Lars Ulrich on drums and Rudy Trujillo on bass gives these songs the energy that has been lacking from prior albums. Every song on the album surpasses the five minute mark and allows the listeners to get involved in the songs.

2. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology: Ryan Adams continues to make some of the best music of today. His song writing is second to none. This his 10th album in 8 years and his fourth with The Cardinals. The album is dubbed as "alternative country", but finds similarity to the sounds of the Grateful Dead. A great album to relax and absorb.





3. King Of Leon - Only By The Night: I know I've said it before, but this band keeps getting better with each album(this being their fourth). While the band has not taken off in the US as they have in other countries, their albums are some of the best albums made the last five years. This is the band's most successful album debuting at #5 and it also received 3 Grammy nominations for the band. Lead singer Caleb Followill's song writing and singing have improved as well as the band's instrumentation.





4. The Raconteurs - Counselors Of The Lonely: This is only the second album by this band led by the White Stripes' Jack White. The album was recorded, produced and released in a matter of weeks. The combination of Brendan Benson and Jack White on vocals and guitars are the best rock duo in music today. The album touches upon alternative rock, classic rock, country rock and blues. While their last album was only 30+ minutes long, this one more that makes up for it was its storied lyrics and unforgettable sound.





5. Guns 'N Roses - Chinese Democracy: It's the band's first album of new material in over 17 years. It also cost over 13 million dollars to make. On top of that, the album was sold exclusively through Best Buy. The album debuted at #3 in November and has since sold over 300,000 copies. The sound of the album ranges from Hard Rock to Blues to Orchestrated Ballads. With over a dozen different musicians on the album, the only constant is Axl Rose. It does feature some amazing song writing and performing as in the songs "Better" and "Madagascar".  Was it worth the wait? No, but it is still one of the best albums of 2008.





6. AC/DC - Black Ice: AC/DC returned in a big way. Their album "Black Ice" debuted at #1 selling over 700,000 copies in its first week of release. The band made a deal with Wal-Mart to sell the album exclusively which did not seem to hurt the sales at all. While first half of the album is as good as anything the band has ever recorded, the second half seems to lose some of its power. After 33 years together, AC/DC still know how to rock better than anyone.





7. Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch: The band Mudcrutch was the name of Tom Petty's band before the formation of the Heartbreakers. Originally formed in 1970, the band released one single back in 1975 which failed to make the charts. After reviewing the documentary "Runnin' Down A Dream", Tom Petty decided to reform Mudcrutch and record an album. The album was a surprising success and the mini-tour was even more of a success. The fun of making this album is heard in the songs. This is how country rock albums should sound.





8. The Black Crowes - Warpaint: The band began recording this album in July 2007, after a 5 year layoff from each other. The Robinson brothers created some of their strongest work since their debut album. The Black Crowes brand of blues-rock is like nobody else. Songs like "Oh Josephine" and "Whoa Mule" help make this album a keeper. With very minimal overdubs, it makes the listener feel like their in the studio with the band. One of their best albums ever.





9. B.B. King - On Kind Favor: At 83 years old, B.B. King made one the the best albums of his career. With the help of producer T Bone Burnett, B.B. King took blues songs like, "See The My Grave Is Kept Clean" and "Blues Before Sunrise" and made them feel like brand-new originals. The album carries a very basic sound that allows B.B. King's guitar playing to become the focal point and breathes new life into this blues legend.





10. R.E.M. - Accelerate: This is R.E.M.'s best album in over a decade. It debuted at #2 back in April, but quickly fell off the radar. The album is only 35 minutes long and is a very up-tempo album without any long, drawn-out ballads. I hope the band continues in this same vein of music writing.





2008 was the seventh consecutive year for a drop in CD sales. With slow first half sales, not even some of the biggest names in rock music could save the format. Universal Music Group declared that digital music sales surpassed CD sales. Even vinyl music saw an increase in sales this year. So, is this the end of CDs? With a grim outlook, the coming years will be crucial if the compact disc expects to have an extended shelf life or not.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Favorite Shows of 2008

This past year, I attended a good deal of concerts, some amazing shows that I'll never forget and maybe some I wish I could. I saw piano legends, guitar gods, pop idols, some hair metal and even a little bit a country. But, there were 2 shows that stood out more than the others.

One show that impressed me was by former 80's hair metal band Motley Crue. Their tour, entitled "Crue Fest", was a full adrenaline rush provided high energy songs and enticing videos. Touring behind a brand new album, "Saints of Los Angeles", the group did a great job mixing in new and old songs. The stage, along with the fireworks and explosions, only added to the experience. The band, for the most part, looked to be in great shape as Vince Neil ran all over the stage, followed by Nikki Sixx passionate playing and Mick Mars amazing guitar licks. All being provoked by Tommy Lee's pounding drums and outgoing demur. It was a perfect show for a hot August night.

By far, my favorite show of the year was by legendary guitar god, Eric Clapton. Having only see Clapton one other time during his 1994 "blues" tour, this show displayed some of the most amazing guitar being played today. He performed many classic originals mixed with blues covers as he played both electric and acoustic guitar. His encore of "Got My Mojo Working", featuring opening act Robert Randolph, was one for the ages. A very professional classic rock show.

Overall, the concert industry did very well this year despite fans' economic struggles. If the right performer comes around for the right price, be sure to get a ticket. It could be one of the best concerts of your life.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Concert Review: Tim McGraw Overwhelms At Mohegan Sun

As the first of only two New England area shows, country superstar Tim McGraw came and amazed the audience at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Backed by his regular band, The Dancehall Doctors, Tim McGraw was not there to promote an album, but just to perform for his fans. After these two shows, Tim McGraw will not perform live again until mid-2009.

As his band took their places, Tim McGraw walked out onstage to a deafening roar from the audience. He began the evening with a new song entitled “Still”. Fans automatically accepted it as an old favorite. Tim McGraw proceeded to perform four of his Country Singles chart toppers, “Unbroken”, “Back When”, “Last Dollar (Fly Away)” and “Where The Green Grass Grows”. Tim McGraw was masterful in the way he covered the stage, performing for both the main audience and the audience located behind him. “Kristofferson”, a personal favorite from his latest album and the Ryan Adams’ original “When The Stars Go Blue” prepared the crowd for his biggest single of 2008, “Let It Go”. With a new album just waiting to be released, Tim McGraw proceeded to try out the new songs “Southern Voice” and the slow-tempo “You Had To Be There”.

Getting the crowd up on their feet, he went back in time to one of his earliest singles “Indian Outlaw”. Keeping the crowd rockin’, Tim McGraw finished his set with “Between The River And Me”, “I Like It, I Love It” and one of his most popular songs “Live Like You Were Dying”. Tim McGraw walked off stage to an overwhelming standing ovation that seemed to drown out the sound of the band.

The encore began with an acoustic version of his 2007 hit “If You’re Reading This”. The song takes its lyrics from a letter that a family received only upon the death of a soldier. Being in the Christmas Spirit, Tim McGraw performed the Skip Ewing original, “It Wasn’t His Child”. Tim McGraw and his band then proceeded to pick-up the tempo with fan favorites “How Bad Do You Want It” and “Something Like That” before ending with his 2003 hit single, “Real Good Man”. Knowing what to expect, the crowd was still left in awe by the performance given by this country superstar.

“The hardest working band in country music”, The Lost Trailers opened the evening with “Hey Baby” from their 2008 album, “Holler Back”. With only a quick 30 minutes to play with, they performed their latest single, “How ‘Bout You Don’t” and a cover of John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” among other songs. They finished their set with their Top Ten country hit “Holler Back”. Coming soon to Mohegan Sun is Daryl Hall & John Oates, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aaron Lewis of Staind. Visit www.mohegansun.com for more information.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

And The Nominees Are ...

The nominees of the 51st Annual Grammy Awards was announced Wednesday night. After looking through all 110 categories, there were some albums that were overlooked in certain categories (Metallica's Death Magnetic - Album of the Year). And some albums that were overlooked entirely (Neil Diamond, Black Crowes, R.E.M.). While the Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance Category has no losers (John Mayer, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Neil Young), the Best New Artist Category has no real winner. The Jonas Brothers already won. They've made more money than everybody else in that category combined. I especially enjoy seeing the elder statesmen like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and James Taylor competing against newer acts like Kings of Leon and even Radiohead. But no matter who wins the Grammy Award, if your album gets nominated for a Grammy, then you are almost guaranteed to double the sales of that album. For a complete list of all 110 categories, go to www.grammys.com.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's Beginning To Sound A Lot Like Christmas

Many of us have the same Christmas songs we love to hear over and over again by our favorite artists. Songs like "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby, "The Christmas Song" by Nat King Cole and "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley are just a few of these songs.  This holiday season, we find an over abundance of new Christmas CDs by some of the biggest names in the music industry. The standard artists associated with Christmas like Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett, and Harry Connick Jr. have released new Christmas CDs, while Melissa Etheridge, Faith Hill, Los Lonely Boys and Bela Fleck are releasing their first batch of holiday classics.

This Christmas has a bunch of established artists taking that musical plunge into the holiday CD section. First up are the ladies, Grammy-winner Mary Chapin Carpenter released her first holiday CD entitled, "Come Darkness, Come Light". Melissa Etheridge "A New Thought For Christmas" features classic Christmas songs mixed with some holiday originals. Country superstar Faith Hill has released an album called "Joy To The World", of 10 traditional Christmas songs, plus 1 original composition. Living legend Aretha Franklin has released a Borders Store exclusive Christmas CD entitled "This Christmas Aretha". Another exclusive Christmas album is by Grammy-winner Sheryl Crow. Her Hallmark Store exclusive CD "Home For Christmas" collects 9 traditional songs with one new holiday original.

As for the guys, Christmas crooner Tony Bennett has a new CD of holiday favorites performed with the Count Basie Orchestra. Another Christmas crooner, Harry Connick Jr. released his third Christmas CD entitled "What A Night! A Christmas Album". It has almost become a tradition for Harry Connick Jr. to relase a new Christmas CD. A couple of newcomers to the Christmas scene are Bela Fleck and The Flecktones with "Jingle All The Way" and Los Lonely Boys with "Christmas Spirit". But, one of the biggest releases this holiday season is by the legendary Elvis Presley. His newest Christmas CD is entitled "Christmas Duets" and features the king performing holiday favorites with some of today's ladies of country like Carrie Underwood and Gretchen Wilson using today's technology.

If you would rather have a mix of holiday classics by different artists, then "The Essential Now! That's What I Call Christmas" is what you're looking for. It features 25 of some of the most popular holiday favorites. For the Classic Rock fan, Hip-O Records has released a CD of 14 songs performed by classic rock artists, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Styx, Elton John and more. One of my personal favorite Christmas artists, Brian Setzer, has released a greatest hits collection of his 2 previous Christmas albums. The new CD entitled "Christmas Rocks" contains 20 songs and can also be found with an accompanying DVD featuring his annual live Christmas Show.

So, let's all gather around the ol' iPod and take in some Christmas cheer provided by holiday tunes both new and old.