Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review: Kevin Beadles "You Can't Argue With Water"

What if Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams got in a pickup truck and drove across America writing songs? Well, my money is on Lucinda stepping up to the plate if the truck broke down. But musically, Kevin Beadles is what that collaboration might sound like. His new CD, "You Can't Argue With Water", dabbles in Americana, singer-songwriter, and roots rock styles. Beadles is a versatile talent who writes thoughtful (and sometimes amusing) lyrics, and has a warm, well-controlled voice that is mighty easy on the ears.

There are lots of strong cuts on "You Can't Argue With Water", which starts with the perfect "Shine". "Shine" is a radio-friendly pop country rocker that crosses several musical genres, and boasts a catchy melody that allows Beadles to showcase how effortlessly he can drift into falsetto and back again. "Shine" is easily my favorite track, but there is lots more that I look forward to hearing time and time again. "High" is a sweet ballad made even more beautiful with a truly graceful and earnest vocal performance by Beadles. The mellow title track is another standout, featuring lyrics such as, "You can't argue with water, you can't reason with rain, it just falls where it wants to, and love's the same". Beadles kicks the blues rock into gear with a roadhouse tune called "Sharkskin" but, again, where he really 'shines' is on the ballads, "Caroline" being another example.

Beadles plays a sublime kind of music that you might hear coming from a Midwestern porch. In many respects, "You Can't Argue With Water" is cleansing, washing away the overly processed garbage that usually contaminates the airwaves, and nurturing our thirst for pristine talent. I recommend you check out Kevin Beadles if you like Ryan Adams, Billy Falcon, Chris Isaak, or Ellis Paul.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10

Kevin Beadles on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review: Hoodoo Gurus "Purity of Essence"

I've been a big fan of Australia's Hoodoo Gurus ever since they released "Stoneage Romeos" in 1984. While the Gurus were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2007, they never got the recognition they deserved in the US. Throughout the 80s, they've released some phenomenal records, "Blow Your Cool" being my favorite. They stayed strong in the 90s, especially with "Crank". "Mach Schau" was a treat for fans in 2004, but we've been waiting 6 long years for the ninth record, "Purity of Essence".

"Purity of Essence" finds the Gurus in fine form - still rocking with melodic vocal hooks and sweet guitar licks after all these years - and the distinctive vocals of lead singer Dave Faulkner sound just as good as they did in 1984. The boys waste no time grabbing your attention with a trademark rocker, "Crackin' Up". The party continues with the powerpop gem, "A Few Home Truths", then ventures into ballad territory with "Are You Sleeping?" The best ballad the Gurus have done is "I Was The One" from "Blow Your Cool", but "Are You Sleeping?" is a close second - beautiful song. But in case you did fall asleep, you'll be jolted out of your slumber with the energetic and brassy "Burnt Orange". The soul-inspired and wonderfully catchy "I Hope You're Happy" and the haunting "Ashamed of Me" round out the better half of the record. We've waited six years, so the band gives us 16 tracks - an over an hour of new music...but honestly I could have done without the final third of the CD. The bottom end of the record is good, but the songs aren't as instantly memorable, with exception of "1968".

"Purity of Essence" shows that a band going on 30 years of age still has all the energy of their younger counterparts...and plenty to say in new songs to grace the musical landscape. Yet another jewel in the Gurus' crown.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 15

Hoodoo Gurus on MySpace. Official site.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: Asia "Omega"

The reunited supergroup Asia (Geoffrey Downes, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, and John Wetton) is back with its follow up to the excellent "Phoenix" (2008). I am a huge fan of their big 80s hits like "Heat Of The Moment", "Only Time Will Tell", and "Don't Cry" and thought that "Phoenix" was a respectable comeback. In my opinion, Asia works best when they temper their prog rock with catchy hooks and radio-friendly songwriting. Unfortunately, this is not the case on their latest, "Omega".

This is not to say that "Omega" is a a total dud, but in general it is pretty dull and unengaging. What saves the record are cuts like the arena ready opener, "Finger On The Trigger", which has just about everything a casual fan of Asia would desire. "I'm Still The Same" is another pop rocker that drills into the mind a lot faster than the other songs on "Omega". There are some additional tracks near the end that (subtly)recall their 80s hey day, with "I Believe" being one of the best uptempo tunes on the record. The CD closes with a decent ballad called "Don't Wanna Lose You Now".

As always, the musicianship and production is top notch, and Asia's lyrics remain more cerebral than your average AOR band. Too bad the songs on "Omega" are not as strong as the players.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 6, 9, 11, 12

Asia on MySpace. Official site.

Review: JPT Scare Band "Acid Blues is the White Man's Burden"

Banded together during the tumultuous years of the early 70’s, JPT Scare Band fused a sound equally heavy in hard rocking blues as it was tripped out in psychedelia, creating a sound so imposing that it perfectly reflected the emotions of the era. Formed by guitarist / vocalist Terry Swope, drummer Jeff Littrell, and bassist Paul Grigsby, JPT Scare Band began recording songs in their Kansas City basement, and soon compiled a vault full of reel to reel tape that would make up much of the band’s catalog. Classic Rock Magazine declared JPT Scare Band as “one of the lost pioneers of Proto-Metal”.

Nearly an hour long, "Acid Blues is the White Man's Burden" is made up of seven tracks (nine for the vinyl edition) that span the (in)glorious history of the band and will make listeners rethink how they feel about the blues. Each track sizzles with nostalgia, with fuzzy guitars, gritty vocals, and extended jam sessions that instantly transport you to what feels like a Hendrix concert. Everything grooves in its own right, but I'd like to call the most melodic cuts to your attention: "Long Day", "Not My Fault", and "I've Been Waiting" are must-hear tracks. In addition, the title track will undoubtedly dazzle fans of classic blues rock. Terry Swope has got to be one of the world's most underrated guitarists!

If you miss the glory days of Cream, Deep Purple, and Jimi Hendrix, you have to check out these uncovered gems from JPT Scare Band. The record is available in CD deluxe digipak format, digital download, and multi-colored double 12" vinyl with bonus tracks courtesy of Ripple Music.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5

JPT Scare Band on MySpace. Get it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Review: Caitlin Canty "Neon Streets" [EP]

The sweet and mellow sounds of Caitlin Canty tiptoe back into your ears on her latest, "Neon Steets". "Neon Streets" is the first of four collaborative EPs that will be released throughout 2010-11, which follow her notable debut "Green" (review here).

"Neon Streets" features seven new songs co-produced by the string-rock band Darlingside, who bring a heightened dramatic sound to Canty's acoustic-based folk songs. The inclusion of cello, mandolin, and lofty harmonies augment her songs well. In some respects, this collaboration makes her songs sound better suited for a small theater than the coffeehouse. The stylistic change is so natural that she will by no means alienate fans of "Green".

Canty's vocals sound emboldened this time around - she is clearly more seasoned and confident. I still feel there were some missed opportunities on "Neon Streets" in which she could have created a vocal "moment" that gives the tune something extra special. I find the tunes on "Green" to be more memorable, but this is not to say that "Neon Streets" is not a pleasant listen. Canty never fails to sooth with her enchanting voice and vivid imagery, and "Neon Streets" plays like a lullaby. My favorite cuts include "Halo" and "Shore".

Caitlin Canty on MySpace. Official site.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Review: Shawn Fisher - Son Of A Bad Man [EP]

Every once in a while I stumble on an artist that I just can't believe hasn't hit the big time yet. Shawn Fisher, and his band, Son of a Bad Man (named after an old 1949 movie), is my latest discovery falling into that category.

The son of a classic rock-fan dad and a country-loving mom, Fisher started in his teens as a solo acoustic artist, working the clubs and coffeehouses of his native Jacksonville, Florida. From the local rock scene, he assembled Son of a Bad Man — guitarists Casey King and Robbie Vanosdol, bassist Scraggle, and drummer Brad Moxey — who quickly became one of Jacksonville’s top-drawing acts, appearing with Bryan Adams, Foreigner, Gavin DeGraw, Hinder, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, and others. In 2008 the band recorded a self-titled independent EP that went on to sell 5,000 copies and attracted some big names to his music.

“Shawn is that rare breed of singer that makes you believe every word he says, just by his opening up the throttle and letting loose,” says Semisonic’s Dan Wilson, who collaborated with Son of a Bad Man on the album, along with Chris Henderson (3 Doors Down), Mike Viola, Chris DeStefano (Carly Smithson), and the Norwegian duo Espionage (Beyoncé, Train, Chris Brown).

The tunes I heard embody everything that a fan of guitar-driven pop rock could want - they are as close to perfection as you can get. Explosive guitars, arena-ready choruses, radio-friendly hooks, and an outstanding rock vocalist. "Open Your Eyes" is the current single, and it features an acoustic opening that quietly builds into terrific melodic rocker - very Goo Goo Dolls. The sparser opening allows Fisher to show off his amazing pipes. Other fantastic tunes I've had the privilege to hear include "Let Me In", which reminds me of the best song Ryan Cabrera never recorded and the mid-tempo "This Is Me", where his modest country influence can be heard. The EP closed with "You Got Me", which is another winner that calls to mind Gavin DeGraw.

Fans of Butch Walker, Augustana, and Goo Goo Dolls will love Shawn Fisher. For now, you can grab the single, "Open Your Eyes" from iTUNES or Amazon. We'll let you know when more becomes available!

Shawn Fisher on MySpace.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Interview: Ron Keel

Check out my interview with Ron Keel at Rock and Roll Report!

And in case you missed it, here is my review of Keel's latest record, "Streets Of Rock & Roll".

Review: Mark Bacino "Queens English"

Mark Bacino is playing the role of the Woody Allen of power pop on his latest release, "Queens English". The title is not what you might think of at first - here, "Queens" refers to the famous borough in New York City.

For the unfamiliar, Bacino is a New York-based singer/songwriter who has gained quite the following in the power pop world. If you like his influences, which include The Beatles, Beach Boys, Harry Nilsson, and Randy Newman, odds are you'll appreciate Bacino's brand of music. "Queens English" marks his third album, following 1998's "Pop Job" and 2003's "Million Dollar Milkshake"...geez, has it really been seven years?!

The title track is clearly a runaway standout and a great way to kick off the "Queens English" record. Rocking, witty, and infectiously catchy, power poppers could not ask for more. I wish there were more like this one on the album. He takes an abrupt left turn with the significantly slower "Happy", which is ironically one of the most melancholy tunes in the bunch. "Muffin in the Oven" is classic Bacino and a perfect prelude to "Camp Elmo", where his Nilsson influence really sparkles. In fact this song sounds like something Nilsson could have written for Sesame Street. "Angeline & the Bensonhurst Boy", "Middle Town", and "Who Are Yous?" are some of the strongest highlights on the record for me. Overall, the record seems a bit laid back and downbeat compared to previous efforts, but the slower tunes are still fun to hear as so much thought went into the song structure, harmonies, and horns.

On "Queens English", Bacino weaves his stories of parenthood into a melodic tapestry against the backdrop of New York City. Fans of Bacino will fall in love with "Queens English" in a New York minute. For the rest of you, it might take two minutes, but you'll fall in love with it nonetheless.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 6, 9, 11

Join Mark's mailing list and Get A Free mp3 from "Queens English"

Mark Bacino on MySpace. Official site.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: Malea McGuinness "Close As Air"

Armed with a voice that is as bold as it is graceful, Malea McGuinness has what it takes to be a pop diva. Her new album, "Close As Air", will get right under you skin, enchanting you with memorable melodies and engaging harmonies. McGuinness is clearly an adult contemporary artist, but has a soft rock edge in some of her tunes that will attract a wider spectrum of music fans.

She recorded her debut album "True Believer" with producer Scott Hackwith (Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop, The Ramones), which she released independently in 2007. The first single, “Deeper,” hit 16 on influential radio tip sheet Friday Morning Quarterback’s AC40 chart, while the follow-up (and first video) “Sweet Light” was Most Added, climbing to 3, with both in rotation on Sirius XM Satellite and Triple A stations across the country. She performed before 7,000 fans at the Summerfest Music Festival in Milwaukee, sharing the bill with B.B. King, Bon Jovi and John Mayer, then opened for Todd Rundgren at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. She also just signed an endorsement deal for her own signature model acoustic and electric guitars with Korea-based Peerless Guitars.

McGuinness reveals that "Close As Air" is an album about "having faith in something you can't necessarily see or touch". Her emotive lyrics can get downright heart wrenching, especially when coupled to the vulnerability in her vocals - this is best exemplified on the track "Stars". Her sophomore effort begins with a winning rocker called "Spinning", which will make its mark on your memory by the end of the first chorus - it is a perfect pop rock treat. She follows this with a sweet mid-tempo rocker, "Time Will Show", before slowing it down further with the elegant title track. "Moving On" is another highlight with a subtle Southern rock edge and sing along chorus. McGuinness sounds a bit like a female Elton John on the piano driven ballad, "Tonight". The aforementioned "Stars" is one of my favorites off the CD, featuring a standout lyric and wonderful hook in the chorus. "Birthday Song" brings out more of her country influence and serves to showcase her versatility as a songwriter. She ends the CD on a high note with "Memories", another mellow piano ballad with some dramatic strings and backing vocals to help raise the hair on your arms.

McGuinness has a charm and style that will appeal to a wide audience - from fans of classic pop artists such as Linda Ronstadt or Carly Simon to those of modern pop artists like Anna Nalick or Nina Gordon.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10

Malea McGuinness on MySpace. Official site.

Check out a live performance of "Spinning":

Monday, May 17, 2010

Review: The 88 “No One Here” [EP]

The 88 is a Los Angeles-based pop rock group consisting of Keith Slettedahl (vocals & guitar), Adam Merrin (piano), Anthony Zimmitti (drums), and Todd O'Keefe (bass). They’ve been making music since their formation in 2002, landing song after song in hit television shows like The OC, Grey's Anatomy, Gossip Girl, and One Tree Hill…to name a few. You may have also seen (or played) their song "Sons And Daughters" in the game, Rock Band 2. The 88 has recorded numerous independent albums and had a major label release in 2008 entitled, “Not Only...But Also”. If you missed it, you have to get it – one of the best modern rock and pop records of the year.

The 88 is back with a new 5-track EP called “No One Here”. Slettedahl sums up the main thing that makes me such a fan of The 88: "In the end, the thing that ties all of our songs together is the melodies…everything we do has that unifying element." Things begin with “Think You Broke My Heart”, a signature The 88 cut applying British Invasion melodies to modern rock styles. “If Anyone Should Call” is a similar highlight with one of the most infectious and memorable choruses on the EP. Things slow down with a pair of delicate ballads, namely “I’ve Got A Name” and the piano-driven title track. The EP ends on an upbeat note with the sweeping song, “Not That Bad” – not that bad, indeed, thanks to the uplifting melodies and an earnest vocal from Slettedahl.

“No One Here” is short, but leaves a lasting impression. If you are looking for great modern rock that has not lost classic pop sensibility, it is due time you check out The 88. I’d especially recommend them for fans of American Hi-Fi, Augustana, or All-American Rejects. In addition to grabbing the EP, you should try to catch The 88 on the road through May with Ray Davies (The Kinks).

The 88 on MySpace. Official site.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: Pretty Maids "Pandemonium"

Danish heavy metal act Pretty Maids are back with their 13th studio album, "Pandemonium". Don't be fooled by the dainty name: these guys will clean house alright - in fact, they may even bring it down. “Pandemonium” is a blast of thunderous rock energy that will rattle your doors as well as your conscious. Lyrically, Pretty Maids tends to aim higher than your average rock band, touching on politically relevant events and inducing you to think about your role in the world. But they are not below cranking out some good natured love song such as the current single, “Little Drops of Heaven”. In fact, it is times likes those that make the band accessible to more than metalheads.

“I think this new record shows the band in its finest moment”, says singer Ronnie Atkins “that’s definitely our best effort in many years and the spirit in the band is higher than ever”. The intensity on "Pandemonium" certainly is palpable, but all the bombast in the world means nothing if you don't have a great hook in the song - and this is where "Pandemonium" comes up short. The performances and vocals are downright amazing at times, but I struggle to remember many of the songs that I just heard because most are not grounded in a strong enough hook. Some songs come close - the title track for example - it has a decent chorus but there is too much self-indulgent instrumentation in-between. Exceptions to this include "Little Drops of Heaven" (a superb choice for a single), "Final Day of Innocence", "Old Enough To Know", and "Breathless". These four songs are truly great and I wish the CD were full of them.

“Pandemonium” is out on May 14th in Europe and June 8th in the US.

iPOD-worthy: 3, 5, 8, 10

Pretty Maids on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Little Drops of Heaven":

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Interview: Rich Jacques of Right The Stars

Go read my great interview with the entertaining Rich Jacques of the band Right The Stars at Rock and Roll Report!

Click here for my review of the latest record from Right The Stars.

Review: Keane "Night Train"

Loyal readers will know that I am a big fan of Keane's first two records - some of the finest piano-driven pop rock that has hit the scene in a long time. The new direction of their third outing, "Perfect Symmetry" left me cold (review here). Unfortunately on their latest, "Night Train", they veer even further from their roots and into a terrain that I am not willing to follow anymore.

Not all of "Night Train" is off the track, though. "Back In Time" and "Clear Skies" are pleasant tunes, with breezy acoustic guitar accompanying a more or less classic Keane arrangement. "My Shadow" also has an understated beauty in its simplicity, but remains a far cry from what Keane did on their first two records. Sadly, the rest of the songs polluting this release are catastrophic. "Looking Back" and "Stop For A Minute" are plagued with hip-hop influence from Somali/Canadian rapper K'Naan. The band has also gone overboard with their incorporation of dated 80s synth and drum sounds - what happened to the soaring piano melodies we fell in love with? "Ishin Denshin (You've Got To Help Yourself)" is a complete embarrassment, sounding like a track even Erasure would pass on, and it serves as as clear example of how far Keane has strayed from their senses.

The new CD was dubbed "Night Train" because the rails were Keane's favorite mode of transportation during the "Perfect Symmetry" tour, but this is one train that should have never left the station.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4

Keane on MySpace. Official site.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Review: Faz Waltz "Faz Waltz"

Faz Waltz, a rock band from Como, Italy, released their self-titled debut record on March 5. Formed in May, 2007 Faz Waltz consists of Faz La Rocca (Vocals, Guitar, Piano), Omar Bosis (Guitar), Diego Angelini (Bass), Dario Great (Drums). Faz Waltz is yet another in a string of excellent releases from rock bands out of Italy (see also Lactis Fever and Radio Days).

Inspired by the great classic rock bands of the 70s, with a hint of glam and pop, Faz Waltz is ready to rock your world. They waste no time telling you they mean business with rousing openers like "Big Mouth" and "Hello Mister". You'll recognize the trademark growl of Alice Cooper in the vocals of Faz La Rocca right away. The thick crunch in the punchy guitars call to mind AC/DC and some early Kiss as well. But Faz Waltz is not one-dimensional...they flirt with power pop on tracks like "Kingdom Of My Dreams" and "No Fun In Love", which both feature bright, peppy piano that help lighten the mood on the record. The guys also have a soft side (well, as soft as the gritty Faz Waltz will allow themselves to get!) with power ballads like "Little Girl Star" and "Take Me Back". The standout rockers for me included "Best Thing Of History", "Never Stop", and "Strong As I'm Tough".

If you are a fan of 70s-styled rock the likes of Alice Cooper, Kiss, or T. Rex, you won't want to miss this gripping debut by Faz Waltz.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 7, 8, 11

Faz Waltz on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Hello Mister":

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review: Darius Lux "Arise"

Darius Lux is a London born, New York City-based singer/songwriter pioneering "inspirational rock ’n’ soul". What does this mean? Try to imagine a blender full of Lenny Kravitz, Jamiroquai, Robbie Williams, and Maroon 5. The mix of styles he likes to stitch together in his music stem from extensive travels that took him through the Pacific, Asia, Europe and South America. "Arise" was actually recorded in a studio next to the rainforest, as Lux recounts, "[it was] incredible to record while the sun set across the volcano and birds chattered day and night". In describing his music, Lux summarizes his craft as possessing "the honesty of 60's songwriting, the vitality of 70's soul music, the infectiousness of pop music in the 80's and the rawness of 90's hip hop".

"Arise" is an impressive, genre-bending record that holds a little something for everyone. Exceptionally well-produced and free of wild bird chatter, nearly every track sounds ready for the radio. I gravitate more towards the melodic pop rock elements, so highlights for me included "Hey You!", "Every Single Moment", "The Great Unknown", and "You Take My Breath Away". These songs are uplifting indeed - great for thoughtful reflection and catchy enough to stick with you for days after hearing them.

Thematically, "Arise" describes how we can take control of our lives. Lux says, “For each one of us, life can be full of different fears, but we have to remember that fear is a choice. When we decide we don’t want fear and we have chosen to believe in ourselves instead, we find that we begin to receive the things in life we’ve hoped for". So check it out today - "Arise" won't let you down!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10

Darius Lux on MySpace. Official site. Get it.

Check out a video of a live performance of "The Great Unknown":

The Great Unknown - Live @ The Gig, Hollywood

Darius Lux | MySpace Music Videos

Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: Danika Holmes "Second Chances"

"Second Chances" is the debut CD from Danika Holmes, a singer/songwriter from Iowa. Holmes has had some tough breaks in life but tries to squeeze those lemons into lemonade through her music. Her songs are packed full of emotions that parallel many women's lives (and some men too!). As she says, "Women are emotional beings. We feel love, sadness, hope, loneliness...we feel everything". She really wants you to take something meaningful away from her songs.

Holmes has a voice that is gentle as a breeze - perfectly suited for when she tries to empathize her lyrics. I imagine she is a great shoulder to cry on, but also imagine she cries a lot on someone else's shoulder. She makes good use of harmony vocals - so good that I wish they were more abundant throughout the record. Musically, "Second Chances" bounces all over the map, but the thread that ties it altogether is that welcoming tone in her voice.

"Second Chances" begins with one of its strongest cuts, a straightforward pop rock/country tune called "Half As Strong As You". This is one of the tracks where Holmes sounds most comfortable and I was expecting a CD full of radio-friendly nuggets like this tune. But from here, Holmes heads into K.T. Tunstall territory with "Unlit Match" and then veers into a sultry jazz sound with "You Make A Bad Day Good". She then creeps into folk territory by going back to her singer/songwriter roots with a tender ode to granny called "Annie May". I enjoyed this track quite a bit - in addition to being a moving tribute, the song is a bit of a history lesson and achieves her goal to leave you with something meaningful to contemplate.

Before long, Holmes is back in fifth gear with an energetic country rock jam called "Lock Me In Tonight", which reminds me of Shania Twain. "If You Love Me Just Say It" is a quirky little folk song, but undeniably charming and catchy - ukulele and all. What this record needs now is...oh, wait, here it is...the sweeping ballad, "Sounds Like Goodbye". This song is notable because it is well structured and heartfelt, with Holmes turning in one of her more confident vocal performances. "Time For A Change" digs down into the realm of classic country and blues, sounding like something June Carter may have done. "Pockets Full Of Gold" is a simple acoustic piece that shines in melody, production, and lyrical content - this is another type of song where Holmes sounds most at home.

Fans of Chrissy Coughlin, Sheryl Crow, or Jewel need to give "Second Chances" a chance.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 6, 7, 9

Danika Holmes on MySpace. Official site.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Review: Secret Smile "Hurry Up And Wait"

How did this CD from 2005 evade my radar? Connecticut's Secret Smile is a throwback to the heyday of 80s melodic rock - they sound like what Survivor might have been like had they fully embraced the hairband era. In other words, imagine songs written by Survivor's Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan performed by Faster Pussycat or White Lion. To hear a band like this today is a dream come true for AOR and hard rock fans.

Secret Smile has actually been around since the early 90s with their debut album "Anatomy" surfacing in 1994. But catchy rock with understandable lyrics and tasty harmony vocals stood no chance against grunge, so these guys flew well under the radar. Fortunately, they are persistent and have been quietly cranking out great stuff over the years.

Singer T.J. Gabriele sounds a lot like Mike Tramp (White Lion) - I also could have sworn I heard a little Ted Poley (Danger Danger) in his vocals at times, but that's because it IS Ted Poley! Poley contributes guest vocals on "Feels Like Forever To Me" and the band's revved up cover of the Fleetwood Mac hit, "Go Your Own Way".

There really isn't a sour track on "Hurry Up And Wait", but the best tracks to my ears include arena-ready rockers like "Tears In The Sky", "Runaway", "Here With You Tonight", and "When We Were Young". And don't miss the holiday bonus song buried as track 25 - a rockin' version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". You'll become a fan if you like Danger Danger, White Lion, or Enuff Z’ Nuff, but I also think you'll dig Secret Smile if you like early 90s Goo Goo Dolls.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 25

Secret Smile on MySpace.

Check out the video for "Runaway":

Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Jason Castro "Jason Castro"

I know what CD Paula Abdul is salivating over right now - the new release from Jason Castro, voted off during the final stages of the seventh season of American Idol. The bright-eyed, dreadlocked, easy-going singer-songwriter took it all in stride and patiently crafted this self-titled debut over the years.

While he doesn't have the vocal prowess and performance skills of most Idol wannabes, Castro did have an earnest charm and could more than carry a tune. His soft, understated tenor did a magnificent job with Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", which is justifiably included as the closer on this short 8 song CD (note: there is an version of Jason Castro that contains six additional tracks not available on the standard release - but I've decided to boycott this "deluxe" and "expanded" edition nonsense).

Castro's potential has recruited an admirable base of songwriters and production expertise to his project. The result is rather pleasant and innocuous acoustic-based pop rock. Consistent with the personality he displayed during his tenure on Idol, the songs generally have a sunny disposition that makes you feel all warm inside. In many cases, you'll find that you can't help wanting to sing along. "Let's Just Fall In Love Again" is a bouncy power pop tune that sounds contemporary, but clearly has some 70s bubblegum pop influence. "This Heart Of Mine" is similar, with a breezy quality many will find refreshing. I wish there were more tracks like these, because from here the CD slows down fast and never picks back up. "That's What I'm Here For" is too generic and "Love Uncompromised" sounds like a Colbie Caillat reject. "Closer" is a melodic mid-tempo tune that teases the that pace will back up, but it is followed by another ballad called "You Can Always Come Home", which features some sweet harmony vocals from Serena Ryder. "It Matters To Me" is yet another ballad, but one of the stronger ones in my opinion. As mentioned, "Hallelujah" is the closing track - nicely done, but yet another ballad. I would have preferred a few more upbeat tracks to make this CD more well rounded - maybe they are all on the expanded version, which is a shame.

While lyrically simplistic and heavy on the ballads, Castro's debut is pretty fun and catchy. Check him out if you like Matt Nathanson, Jason Mraz, or Colbie Caillat.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8

Jason Castro on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for "Let's Just Fall In Love Again":

News: Tim Be Told video and free mp3

News from Tim Be Told (read our review of their EP "From The Inside"):

Tim Be Told Releases “Analyze” Music Video and Announces Free Music Download

On May 5, 2010, Tim Be Told released a brand new music video for their song, “Analyze,” off the critically acclaimed “From the Inside” EP. Watch the video now at, where you can download the single for free and visit the newly relaunched Tim Be Told store. Using real people rather than actors, “Analyze” highlights the internal struggles we all face and the battles waged between discouragement and hope. The video, directed by Jonathan Moy, projects the band’s positive outlook, with hope winning in the end. Tim Be Told’s uplifting music has earned them a legion of fans across the country. They have been touring relentlessly as a client of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment and, in between the dates, the band is spending some time in the studio working on a new record!

For those of you that want to see Tim Be Told perform at your university next year, the band has a limited number of shows that it will be playing at college campuses. Therefore, send a booking email request ASAP to to reserve a spot. Don’t miss out!

See the band on tour live in a city near you and stay tuned to for the latest news and updates:

May 6 - Columbus, OH - BoMA
May 7 - Cincinnati, OH - Mainstay Rock Bar
May 8 - Los Angeles, CA - Panel at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
May 12 - Denver, CO - University of Denver
May 18 - Campbell, CA - World Mission Baptist Church
May 22 - Seattle, WA - APA Heritage Bash @ Ibiza Nightclub
May 28 - Wheaton, IL - WCAC Church
June 25 - Mineral City, OH - Alive Festival
June 26 - Nashville, TN - Lipscomb University

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Review: Lloyd’s Garage "From the Comfort of Your Home"

Yeah, it sounds like someplace you'd take your car for repairs, but this Lloyd’s Garage is all about the raw, earnest feel of do-it-yourself garage rock. With influences that include The Black Keys, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, you get the notion that these boys are all about classic rock. That is true to a certain extent, but there is a strong indie streak that runs through their record. To me, Lloyd’s Garage sounds more like Josh Todd of Buckcherry singing songs written by Eugene Edwards.

Lloyd’s Garage is a duo comprised of Seth Heitzmann (vocals, guitar) and Lloyd Llewelyn on the drums. "From the Comfort of Your Home" is their first full-length CD and it packs a powerful punch - the guitars blast out at you as if competing with the thundering drums, and Heitzmann never misses an opportunity to show he can howl. The band also touches on some interesting lyrical themes, from unattached consumerism, broken homes, and biting retorts about love.

The band confesses that their songs are uncomplicated, "a near-pure homage to the late 60s and early 70s". The guitars are full of mid-range, making the record sound a bit dark overall. I can respect going for simplicity in the songwriting, but sometimes this comes off as laziness - the same riff is hammered into your head for 3+ minutes and the monotony takes it from catchy to stale in no time. More dynamics throughout the record would have made for a more engaging listening experience.

If you want to get a feel for Lloyd’s Garage, I'd recommend you check out a few of the stronger tracks: "Return To Sender", "The Devil, The Matchmaker", and "A Casualty Friend".

iPOD-worthy: 3, 7, 9

Lloyd’s Garage on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the a video for the song "Warmth", performed live:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Interview: Taylor Locke

Check out my interview with Taylor Locke at Rock and Roll Report!

Read our review of "Grain and Grape", his great debut CD with his band, The Roughs, right here!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: Various Artists "Friday Night Lights Vol. 2"

"Friday Night Lights Volume 2" features some of the biggest break out artists of the past year, as you'll notice from the track listing below. The music on the soundtrack to the hit television show is rather eclectic, and not at all what I expected given that this show centers on football. There are a handful of sport appropriate (rah rah) anthem type songs, such as the thumping opener, "Percussion Gun" by White Rabbits, but what predominates "Friday Night Lights Volume 2" is more of a coffeehouse, easy Sunday morning set of songs. You'd almost think this was one of the "Grey's Anatomy" soundtracks. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - just don't take this CD to a pep rally - it sounds more like what one would play after losing a game rather than getting psyched to win one.

"Friday Night Lights Vol. 2" is a good way to check out these "rising stars" and since most of the music is organic and easy, the record makes for a fairly consistent listen. In other words, it plays well as a whole record and does not fall into the soundtrack trap of being all over the map in terms of artists with wildly dissimilar styles. Unfortunately, I found too many of the songs to be nondescript and dull, like a boring halftime show that never seems to end. Highlights include the quiet build of "Killed Myself When I Was Young" by A.A. Bondy and "Fire", a stunning piano ballad by Augustana, one of my favorite bands (if you do have an Augustana record yet, what are you waiting for?). But my favorite player on this team was "Something Good This Way Comes" by Jakob Dylan. With its simplistic beauty, sweet melody, and vivid imagery, it is one of his best tunes since his early Wallflower days.

"Friday Night Lights Volume 2" is out today (digitally) and hits stores May 18.

Track Listing

iPOD-worthy: 3, 4, 5

Get it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Like Trains and Taxis - new video!

Like Trains and Taxis just released a new video for their song "Crooks":

Read our review of the debut CD from Like Trains and Taxis, "Tales From A Revolving Door".