Sunday, December 27, 2009

Favorite Albums of ‘09

With another year over, I enjoy looking back and comparing some of the new music that was released over the course of the last 12 months. 2009 saw CD sales take another hit while digital downloads surpassed physical CD sales. Plus, some of this year’s biggest sellers were from a fallen king (Michael Jackson) the one of the newest groups to have their own video game (The Beatles). I noticed a trend in many of this year’s releases, so instead of listing my favorite albums, I decided to group them together based on similarities.

Two albums that were sure to be special were the newest albums by Bob Dylan and U2. While Bob Dylan’s “Together Through Life” was not his strongest album of the decade, it was still a lyrical masterpiece. Songs like “I Feel A Change Comin’ On” and “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” sound like lost B-sides to some of his classic songs. Back in 2008, U2 announced that they would be holding back the release of their newest album “No Line On The Horizon” until 2009 because of a musical overload of ideas. Their gamble paid off with one of the band’s best albums of all-time. Songs like “Moment of Surrender” and “Breathe” added another level to Bono’s and The Edge’s songwriting.

A big trend this year was to put together a super group of musicians, record and album and go on tour and see how they are accepted by the masses. Some bands sounded better on paper (Chickenfoot, The Dead Weather) while others made us forget for a moment that they were ever in another band. One of those super groups was a trio called Them Crooked Vultures made up of Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin). Their music brought back that 70’s hard rock sound as well as having fun performing with friends. Another super group, who has been overly compared to the Traveling Wilburys, is the Monsters of Folk. The harmonizing of the voices and instruments of Jim James, Conner Oberst, M. Ward and Mike Mogis make their debut album hard to resist.

Anticipated albums by Alice In Chains, Phish, Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam brought these superstar groups back into the spotlight. With the death of lead singer Layne Stanley back in 2002 it seemed that Alice In Chains would be no more. But with the discovery of William DeVall, the band’s new album “Black Gives Way To Blue” sounds as if it fits perfectly into their musical catalogue. Phish returned with “Joy”, the band’s first album in five years. They finally figured out how to bring some of their energy from the live shows into the studio. The wonderfully written ”Kill Devil Falls” and the epic “Time Turns Elastic” help make “Joy” the band’s best album since ”Billy Breathes”. “Big Whiskey and The Groogrux King” gave the Dave Matthews Band the respect they lost with past album failures and gave fans hope on a bright future. Pearl Jam released their new album ”Backspacer” exclusively through Target stores and even though it was the band’s shortest album at just over 35 minutes, it contained more energy and passion than their last five albums combined. It was also the band’s first number one album in over ten years.

In closing, there are some albums that deserve mentioning. Legendary rockers Kiss released “Sonic Boom” back in October. It debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts and features some of the band’s best songs since the late eighties. Speaking of Kiss, former lead guitarist Ace Frehley also released a new album, “Anomaly”, which could be considered his best album ever. There are also a couple of instrumental albums that are definitely worth listening to. One is by Spanish guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela entitled “11:11” and the other is by surf guitar rockers Los Straitjackets called “The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets”. And let’s not forget some great albums by Wilco (Wilco The Album), Black Crowes (Before The Frost), Wolfmother (Cosmic Egg), David Gray (Draw The Line) and of course Bruce Springsteen (Working On A Dream).

Here’s to hoping that 2010 begins a new decade of some great and wonderful music releases.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Shows of 2009

I was very fortunate this year to see many different musical genres live in concert. From country superstar Keith Urban to 80’s boy band New Kids On The Block and even Vegas showman Barry Manilow, but some of my favorites were by music legends giving it there all on what could be some of their final tours.

The remaining members of The Dead reunited for the first time in over 5 years for a spring tour that included a stop at the XL Center in Hartford. Even though Jerry Garcia, who passed away 14 years ago, was not there in person, his spirit watched over the band as they tore through many Grateful Dead classics throughout the tour. Also, another band that doesn’t seem to go away (thankfully) is the Allman Brothers Band. They came and rocked the Dodge Music Theater with fellow jammers Widespread Panic providing some great music for a nice summer evening.

While recent album releases by Alice Cooper and Kiss fail to make a mark on the music industry, it’s their live shows that are a spectacle to behold. Alice Cooper’s vaudeville theatrics never seem to get old, whether you’re seeing them for the first time or the one hundredth time. Kiss has also not strayed far from what made them musical superheroes in the 70’s. Flying through the air, breathing fire and explosions are what a Kiss show is all about. I was happy to be a part of their Alive 35 tour.

But, it was shows at the beginning of 2009 and the end of 2009 that were two of my favorites this year. Back in February, Singer/songwriter Ryan Adams and his band The Cardinals began what ended up being their farewell tour in New Haven. Ryan Adams was known to end shows early because of crowd heckling or bad sound systems, but this night he sounded great and was in good spirits, performing for over two hours. The other show I really enjoyed was Lionel Richie. He performed earlier this month at the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods. With most of his set drawing from his time with The Commodores and his early 80’s hits, it was a fun show that everyone (young and old) could enjoy. He quickly broke down the barrier between the audience and performer by shaking hands and talking with fans during the show.

As I look forward to 2010, I’m hoping that artists don’t price themselves so out of range that true fans can’t afford to see some of their heroes. Do yourself a favor and catch a live concert next year; it might be the experience of a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

CD Review: Get To Know Ten Year Vamp

New York Band, Ten Year Vamp, is currently on tour in the New England area promoting their latest release, "Don't Act Like You Know Me". Their modern rock sound of blazing guitar solos and pounding drums is highlighted by the sex appeal of Debbie Garbrione's vocals. Her confidence shines on the songs "Never Know" and "Say That You Made Love To Me". Listening to the albums lyrics bring back thoughts of Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill". The band rocks on the album tracks, "Pleasures (That I Call Mine)" and "Faked It". While some of the album's 12 tracks are over three years old, there sound fits in perfectly with today's music scene.

Their songs have been featured on MTV and on Microsoft Windows 7: Playlist and the band has currently signed a deal with Hot Topic. They will be performing on December 19th at the Black Bear Saloon in Hartford, CT before returning to Albany, NY to finish out the year performing at the Bayou Cafe on December 26th. Their latest release is available at Hot Topic stores and on itunes. Visit www.tenyearvamp.com for more information and music samples on this hot "up-n-coming" band.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

CD Review: Singer/Songwriter Alex Highton Becomes A Storyteller

Englishman Alex Highton is what we're looking for in folk music today. His laid back storytelling is very enjoyable to the ears and his singing keeps you focused on his voice. At times, his songs can sound like 60's pop and southern blues at the same time. He is currently an unsigned artist, but probably not for long.

The opening track "Village Life" sounds like an acoustic out-take from The Kinks' "Village Green Preservation Society". His voice and clever song-writing style is very similar to The Kinks' Ray Davies. The gentle flow of "You've Got The Trees" is a wonderful piece of music and lyrics. Many of Alex's songs do not follow the conventional song style of verse, chorus, verse, chorus; he adds a more storytelling element to his songs. Some of the songs like "Smoking" and "You Left Me In No Doubt" sound as if they are being presented in their raw demo form which works with the flow of the album, but I would also like to hear a more completed version of these songs. The acoustics and harmonizing of "Panic" and "A Song For Someone" sound like early Pink Floyd. "Dirty Rugs", the album closer, is a fun acoustic track that sounds like it came from the sessions for The Beatles' "White Album".

Overall, the album has a smooth, relaxed flow to the songs. Do yourself a favor and check out Alex's myspace page www.myspace.com/alexhighton and read what others are saying about him. Then jump over to iTunes and purchase this new discovery of 2009.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

CD Release Show For Mark Mulcahy

This Friday, December 11 is the New Haven CD Release Show for "Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs Of Mark Mulcahy". Mark Mulcahy was the former front-man of the bands Miracle Legion and Polaris. This album is a tribute to Mark's song-writing and proceeds from the sales of this album will go directly to the Mulcahy family. Mark took a break from his musical career when his wife, Melissa, died suddenly in the fall of 2008. Friends and colleges banded together to pay tribute to Mark and his song-writing by performing songs from Mark Mulcahy's musical career. The album features tracks recorded by Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Frank Black (The Pixies), Thom Yorke (Radiohead), Ben Kweller, Juliana Hatfield and others.

The CD Release show will be held at Toad's Place in New Haven and will feature musical guests Elvis Perkins, Chris Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne), David Berkeley and others performing the songs of Mark Mulcahy. Doors open at 7PM and admission is only $10. Be sure to pick-up a copy of "Ciao My Shinning Star", but if you are unable to attend the show, the album is available at www.shoutfactory.com and on itunes. For more information on Mark Mulcahy, please visit www.mezzotint.com.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Concert Review: Lionel Richie Heats Up A Cold December Night

A few months off can make a performer reflect on his past accomplishments and failures. It also allows the performer time to perfect his talents and find a vision for his performances. Following a brief hiatus, Lionel Richie’s accomplishments were on full display at the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods.

After a 50 minute delay, Lionel Richie took the stage and transported the audience back to the ‘70’s. Even though Lionel Richie released a new album back in May of this year, it was his time with The Commodores that became the main focus of the evening. His performances of The Commodores’ classics “Easy”, “Still”, “Sail On”, “Fancy Dancer” and ”Three Times A Lady” easily made the audience forget that he was late on arrival. On occasion, he took up residence at his grand piano located center stage for the ballads, but is seemed as more of an escape from the numerous fans approaching the stage to shake his hand or hug his leg. Lionel Richie was very accommodating to his fans by even posing for pictures mid-song. He made the sold-out theatre feel very comfortable with the occasional story between songs. Big applauses were well-deserved for his performance and crowd interaction of the songs “Stuck On You” and “Endless Love”. The latter song featured all the females in the audience singing Diana Ross’ parts of the duet. Lionel Richie had no trouble getting people on their feet dancing, turning the theatre in a club-type atmosphere with the songs “Running With The Night”, “Dancing On The Ceiling” and the set-closer “Brick House”.

Richie returned for the encore singing his 1984 number one hit “Hello”. The singing of the audience drowned out the singer’s own vocals. The night’s closer was another of Lionel Richie’s number one hit from a year earlier, “All Night Long”. With an all-too quick finish to his 90-minute performance, the audience was still singing as his songs that played through the speakers in the casino as they exited the MGM Grand Theatre.

Setlist:
Just For You
Penny Lover
Easy
Ballerina Girl
Running With The Night
Still
Oh No
Stuck On You
Dancing On The Ceiling
Three Times A Lady
You Are
Sail On
Fancy Dancer
Sweet Love
Lady
Endless Love
Brick House
Hello
All Night Long

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's An Honor Just To Be Nominated

The nominees for the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards were announced on December 2nd and it seems like the ladies are leading the way with the most nominations. Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Colby Caillat combined for 27 nominations. While the guys ended up spreading the wealth around.

The competition that I'm mainly interested in are the rock and hard rock categories. Like the Solo Rock Vocal Performance, it features Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Prince. Now all five of these nominees are great artists, but there is one that does not belong . . . sorry Prince. Now on to the Best Hard Rock Performance category, I'm glad to see that Alice In Chains was nominated, but I think the battle will be between Metallica and AC/DC. Although Nickelback could come and steal that Grammy award.

Two can't lose categories are the Best Rock Song, which features Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon, U2, Green Day and Bruce Springsteen and Best Rock Album which has U2, Green Day, Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, Dave Matthews Band and AC/DC. I would like to see AC/DC win at least one Grammy for their hard work on Black Ice, but Green Day has been a Grammy favorite since their American Idiot album.

Now these are only a handful of the 109 categories that the Recording Academy has for awards, so to see the full list, visit www.grammys.com. Don't forget to tune in to the telecast on Januray 31st to see if you favorites bring home a Grammy this year.