Monday, February 28, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

FAIR WARNING "Fair Warning" (1992)

Fair Warning is one of the most successful and consistent German melodic rock acts, quite big in Europe and huge in Japan. Unfortunately, they are a relative stranger in USA because when their record came out, grunge was being played all over the place. Formed after bassist Ule Ritgen and singer Tommy Heart left Zeno, this debut captured Heart’s strong character and mighty voice, built on a foundation of solid melodic hard rock based on the combination of their senior fellow German bands, Bonfire and Scorpions; they also have been influenced by American heroes, Bon Jovi and Journey. Andy Malecek and Helge Engelke exert extraordinary guitarmanship here and you can hear their cheering and shrilling plays throughout the tracks.

The band runs back and forth to provide a balanced platform of rockers and ballads, standing proudly on the borders of hard rock and AOR. Out of twelve tracks, I can say that mostly are well-crafted and high-quality arrangements. "Longing For Love" is one of my fave midtempo tracks; I recall first hearing this song on the radio when it topped the local magazine's rock chart. It smartly blends the chugging AC/DC riffs and climbs up to a soaring melodic chorus. Zeno's old track, "The Heat of Emotion", makes its way here, and this is definitely another winner packed with blissful harmonies. Some other good rockin' tracks such as "Hang On" and "The Eyes of The Rock" are worth checking out, but the best uptempo track of the album is "Out On The Run", with an energetic verse and soaring chorus. On the ballads side, "The Call of The Heart", "One Step Closer", and "Long Gone" are just marvelous, classic, and hauntingly beautiful.

Fair Warning's eponymous debut is a superb effort and though they kept releasing great records, it seems they just can't surpass this one. The sound production is excellent, the musicianship is above average, the songs are timeless, and nothing really can't stop me from giving this a full five stars. A perfect and essential buy for big fans of melodic hard rock and AOR freaks!

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rare Trax: Tracy Bonham "The One"

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "The One" by Tracy Bonham from her debut 1996 album, "The Burdens of Being Upright". Tracy was best known for her alt-rock hit, "Mother Mother", but this little pop rock tune is my favorite from the CD.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cover tune catastrophe: Bringin' On The Heartbreak

In this ongoing series, I will uncover some of the WORST cover tunes ever recorded. We’ve all encountered that unsettling feeling upon hearing a beloved song redone by another artist. What were they thinking? How dare they try to redo this song! While we are powerless to prevent these clowns from trashing the originals, we can call them out on it.

Mariah Carey "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" (Def Leppard)

Oil and water. 'Nuff said. There's guitar players in the video, but damned if I can hear them!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Scott Bricklin “Scott Bricklin”

Scott Bricklin, of the underrated 80s pop band Bricklin and the underrated 90s pop rock band Martin’s Dam, and the underrated pop/folk rock super group 4 Way Street, and more recently, US Rails, is back with his own self-titled release.

The dozen songs on the new CD find Scott Bricklin fusing his melodic roots with his recent leanings in Americana and folk rock. It is a winning combination that benefits from intelligent lyrics, warm harmonies, and compelling chord changes. The opening track, “Miracles” embodies all of the elements of a perfect modern pop rock song. It is easy going, with a chorus that is as welcoming as the sun shining on your skin. Similarly, “Down For The Count” boasts another happy-go-lucky melody that provides buoyancy to the reflective lyrics. Bricklin’s controlled delivery and gentle glide up into his falsetto provide the icing on the cake. “A Night With You” merges Bricklin’s love for Beatlesque melodies and Americana, producing a real gem of a tune that would have made George Harrison proud.

Other highlights include the driving anthem “Straight Into A Wall”, with its perfect mix of acoustic and electric guitars providing a natural backdrop for Bricklin’s mild rasp, and the Lennon-inspired “Dark Clouds, Blue Skies”. There’s also a beautiful little love song in the heartfelt “Nothing More Than You”, but one of my favorite tracks is the thought-provoking “Then and Now”, with lyrics that frame life’s journey as a big picture. Overall, “Scott Bricklin” is a wonderfully consistent record with a pace that ebbs and flows, and it will become a staple soundtrack for lazy days.

Definitely check this one out if you are a fan of Martin’s Dam, Rhett Miller, or Pete Yorn. I’ve been waiting a long time for a release like this one to come from Scott Bricklin, and it was well worth the wait. The record is available now through his web site below.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10

Scott Bricklin on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Miracles”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: Baby Teardrops “X Is For Love”

Indie rock
Baby Teardrops is an indie pop rock band that calls Brooklyn, New York home. Matthew Dunehoo (vocals, guitar) is the leader of this trio, which touts that they “deliver edgy hypnotic elements and recurrent mantras, rooted with the fundamental belief of loving what was originally created and driving their songs around solid riffs.” Megan Thomas (bass, backing vocals, piano) and Gerry White (drums) round out the sound.

“X Is For Love” begins with “ME Where”, a brief introduction clocking just under 2 minutes. It’s enough time to acquaint us with the band’s sound, which has four main characteristics: grungy guitar, thundering drums, sweet male-female harmonies between Dunehoo and Thomas, and the tendency to repeat the same line over and over again. A proper song, “Smooth Sailing Ahead” comes next and stands out as the key track for me where the band maximizes its potential. “I Don’t Wanna Go Home” and “Still Singing The Same Songs” press on the nerves a bit too much with lyrical repetition, but their hooks are decent. Unfortunately, much of the CD suffers from nondescript tracks that make it evident that Dunehoo just doesn’t have a voice capable of holding your attention. Things are improved when Thomas contributes her backing vocal, and I can’t help but think that maybe their roles should be reversed – she should front the band with Dunehoo supplying backing vocals. The band also needs to realize that just repeating the same phrase doesn’t make your song memorable – it makes them irritating (“Lucky 7” possibly being the worst offender).

“X Is For Love” will be available on April 12. Check them out if you like Marcy Playground, The Shins, or The New Pornographers.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 6

Baby Teardrops on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Smooth Sailing Ahead”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Marc Robillard “Left London”

You’ve probably forgotten all about those biodegradable Sunchips bags (ironically recalled because they made too much noise pollution), but you may remember that sweetly mellow jingle used in the commercial. That was from the song “So Much More” by Canadian born, LA-based singer/songwriter Marc Robillard. He will soon release his first full length record, “Left London”, which follows on the heels of his critically acclaimed 2005 EP entitled “Paper Airplanes” (see our review).

As you can surmise from the title, Marc Robillard drew much of the inspiration for his debut from the time he spent living in London. Robillard teamed up with renowned producers Andrew Bojanic and Liz Hooper of The Wizardz of Oz to record “Left London”, with the intention of coating the songs in a pop sheen to achieve a grander sound. The ambition to become more accessible should not be feared by long time fans – Robillard stays true to his organic acoustic-based sound and still paints lively pictures with his heartfelt lyrics.

“Contagious” is the first single, aptly titled since Robillard is striving to create more infectious, hook-driven melodies in his songs. “Contagious” is my favorite cut, and is quickly followed by two more outstanding melodic tracks – “Love Song” and “Unfold”. From here on out, “Left London” stays consistently slow and dreary – while this may please fans of his mellow side, many listeners are going to struggle to stay awake until the next upbeat track, which does not arrive until the distant “Bleed” (track 10). Among the plentiful slower songs, I enjoyed the powerful “Everstop” and aching “The Worst Day of My Life” the most. An updated version of the song made famous by that popular little jingle is also present at the end of the CD. The other tunes are just OK – solid songs, but too nondescript. I applaud Robillard’s move to put the emphasis on catchy hooks, but in some instances there is room for improvement.

I’d recommend Marc Robillard if you enjoy Jack Johnson, Rhett Miller, or Pete Yorn. “Left London” will be available March 29.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 13

Marc Robillard on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Contagious”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

ENUFF Z’NUFF "Animals With Human Intelligence" (1993)

I won't deny the fact that the self-titled debut and “Strength” are this band’s two cult classics, but I frankly believe that this third release is the best one. What a great variety of compositions, ranging from the huge chorus party vibe of "These Daze" and "One Step Closer To You", to a fun guitar ride on "Superstitious" and "Love Train", to the great commercial hits of "Right By Your Side" and "Innocence".

For those who never heard of them before, Enuff Z'Nuff is a breed of Beatles and Cheap Trick, injected with the wild and wacky 80s glam scene. The original Arista version has a different cover and sound, but it's good to have this remastered version for the beautiful bonus track, "Fingertips". A memorable release of musical perfection, and a wonderful legacy to the late and talented Mr. Frigo, may he rest in sleaze and peace.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rare Trax: Icehouse "My Obsession"

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "My Obsession" by the Aussie band Icehouse from their breakthrough album, "Man Of Colours". This wonderful third single did light do as well as its predecessors "Crazy" and "Electric Blue", but it is a lost gem from this era of 80s pop rock. Plus they sport some of the best mullets you've ever seen. The song might have done better if the lead singer looked a wee bit more interested to do the video. Watch for the keyboardist "shooting" the piano keys!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Small Change: Jepp “Jepp”

We’re rolling out a new feature here at BMF called “Small Change”, thanks to our good friend Lee at REAL GONE. Small Change spotlights great, often overlooked CDs that you can get for cheap. Just because the economy sucks, it doesn’t mean your music has to.


JEPP “Jepp” (1998)

Ah, the 1990s. They were a great time for me - and a great time for discovering new music. Back in those days, my friend Rich Barnard and I found hundreds of great albums in the bargain bins of London’s independent record shops and at record fairs. Sometimes we’d pick them up because we’d read reviews, but mostly we’d pick them up because they looked interesting, or somehow right - like they were produced by someone interesting or had decent guests, you know the sort of thing... If you’re someone who has obsessively bought albums, you’ve certainly gone through similar rituals yourself.

This self titled album by Jepp captured my interest after seeing a review in Mojo magazine, which said favourable things and compared her to Rickie Lee Jones. The reviewer also said that Jepp had a voice which would be an acquired taste. It sounded like something I should hear...and soon. Luckily, Rich found one in a bargain bin somewhere not longer after.

There are flashes of music recalling Rickie Lee but I could never completely understand why the magazine said she was a strong influence, since there’s a far stronger one: Jepp’s voluminous, vibrato filled vocal style owes a great debt to Grace Slick.
‘Bowling Night’ gets things underway with a marriage of 90’s style fuzz bass and 60’s style vibraphone. The song is a snapshot of a life, a mother, her migraines and a job she hated. Jepp’s voice soars to attention-grabbing levels, becomes absorbing and by the end of this, you’ll know whether you love her or hate her – it’s really that instant. ‘Superglue Low’ has a more blues-rock feel, but as with most of the music on this album, it’s not quite so simple. Over the low-tuned rhythms, Jepp’s voice is softer than on the opener, less impassioned, but often retaining a sharpness. Lyrically, it sounds like specific storytelling, but the messages seem fairly oblique.

‘Parsons Green’ is much gentler and it’s slightly jazzy acoustic work provides a nice contrast to the fuller sounding previous tracks. One of the albums strongest moments, Jepp’s voice remains soft and intriguing; the vibes return and some soaring guitar work adds colour. ‘Go Home Early’ makes great use of string sounds, a solid but simple drum rhythm and more vibraphones – and Jepp’s voice wanders into Grace Slick territory. By this point, it becomes clear that the album’s great appeal and longevity lies in the care that’s gone into the arrangements and songcraft. Jepp’s music has so many layers, its retro charm becomes enticing.

The haunting ‘Tiny Dancer’ pushes Jepp’s voice to its most extreme. The Grace Slick-isms are at their most blatant with forced vibrato; the music is at its most spiky, altogether creating a slightly unsettling atmosphere. ‘The Guy I Like’ pulls together fuzzy electric guitar, great use of marimba and neo-calypso stylings, which at the outset make it sound like an aggressive cousin to Rickie Lee Jones’s ‘Ghetto of My Mind’ (so maybe that’s why that magazine review picked her as an obvious reference point?). Again the musical layers are appealing – unlike lots of other tracks, the guitar is heavily featured.

Another softer track ‘Las Vegas’ sees the acoustic side of Jepp’s work make a return. If I were to make a musical comparison here, I’d say it resembled some of the quieter moments from Bree Sharp’s ‘More B.S.’ album (although Jepp’s debut was recorded some years before). The acoustic jangle intro of ‘Orbit’ pulls us into album’s most accessible track – Jepp’s voice isn’t quite as hard here and it’s musically simpler. It’s not without those layers, though, as electric guitars are used to created fuzz (but always sparingly) and beneath everything, the sound of the vibraphone provides a much welcome addition (if you find yourself really getting into this album, you’ll understand that the vibraphones are key in giving it most of its retro coolness).

Many of those London record stores and their bargain bins are long gone; the record fairs gather dust and attract only the most faithful, but this Jepp album remains in my collection. It’s been many years, but I still recall the excitement it generated when I first heard it. In all honesty, it’s lost none of that spark. It’s still unconventionally beautiful and surprisingly demanding on the listener for a singer-songwriter album in the pop/rock vein. I’ve played it to a couple of people who’ve really understood it and loved it. I’ve played it to others who’ve had a knee-jerk reaction to Jepp’s voice and compared it to Alanis Morissette and missed any Jefferson Airplane-isms completely.

On the whole, this seems to be an album which has been largely overlooked. There’s very little about it, or Sara Jepp (or even her second album ‘7:11’) on the internet. If you find a copy, do yourselves a favour and pick it up. Provided Jepp’s quirky voice doesn’t turn you off, there are some great songs to be heard.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mark Bacino "Rarities" [EP] - free

From Mark Bacino and Pop Fair:

Free 'Rarities' EP Download
Mark Bacino was recently approached by pop music Blog, "Pop Fair" and asked if I might have any rare/unreleased tracks I might be willing to share with their readers. I thought it was a cool idea and a fun way to say thanks to all who have listened over the years so I decided to give the project a go.

Download your free ‘Rarities’ Digi-EP at Pop Fair
Read the EP's liner notes here.

Read our review of Mark's latest studio release, "Queens English", here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: Dreaming In Stereo “Dreaming In Stereo 2”

Pop rock
Dreaming In Stereo is back with a sophomore effort simply entitled “Dreaming In Stereo 2”. We last heard from this brainchild of the multi-talented singer/songwriter Fernando Perdomo back in 2009 (see review). Ever the busy music man, Perdomo would seem to run the risk of burning out and producing weaker material, but rather I think his hectic schedule and involvement with other musical projects feeds his creativity and ambition.

This sequel to his noteworthy debut record shows important growth, yet stays firmly rooted in keeping the melody the centerpiece. Generally, I enjoyed the front half of the record more than the back half – the first few songs are very radio-friendly and accessible. In contrast, the latter songs are more experimental and the hooks take a back seat. Perdomo still sounds great, with a warm voice halfway between Tom Petty and Jason Falkner. This time out the band also features some tracks with female vocals, “Saturday Song” and “Without You”. They are reasonably performed, but not my preference when I am in the mood for Dreaming In Stereo. “Fill My Sky”, inspired by the Android phone app ‘Google Sky Map’, is the first single – a little mellow, but a gorgeous track that sounds like it could have been a single from Petty’s “Full Moon Fever”. “The Traveler” is another slow burning winner, with a smoldering hook that eases into your senses. The dreamy, atmospheric music fits the lyrics perfectly. Other excellent stand outs include “Enough’s Enough”, “Gonna Sleep Until Tomorrow”, and the tranquil acoustic ballad, “Lullaby”. “Music All Around Me (Dudley Moore's Last Words)” is a sweeping pop rock song with George Harrison-inspired lead work that makes the end of the record worth waiting for.

Check out Dreaming In Stereo if you like The Churchills, Dishwalla, or other melodramatic, progressive pop rock. There are some outstanding finds to treasure on “Dreaming In Stereo 2”. You can also catch the band’s showcase at SXSW 2011 in Austin, TX.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 12

Dreaming In Stereo on MySpace.

Check out the video for “Part Of Your Life”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: Natalia Zukerman “Gas Station Roses”

Pop rock/Americana
Natalia Zukerman is a singer/songwriter in Brooklyn, NY with a delicately firm voice that recalls Sam Phillips at her best. She is a member of the folk group Winterbloom, previously reviewed here on BMF (see review).

Zukerman is backed by an all-star cast that boasts producer and guitarist extraordinaire Willy Porter and members of his band, along with Garrison Starr on background vocals. No surprise, the performances and production are excellent – a rich realm of sound that still manages to feel like it has breathing room. Zukerman also incorporates captivating bits from jazz, blues, and folk to round out her Americana sound. What is disappointing, however, is that despite all this sophisticated instrumentation and talent, the songs have virtually no strong hooks.

Zuckerman describes “Gas Station Roses” as an “album about seeing and being who you truly are”, and there is no faulting her astute and often witty lyrics. The seductive title track is enticing at first, but it wears thin after you realize this foreplay reaches no climax. Things slow down to a dull crawl with the drawn out “Indiana”, making the middle of the CD seem to drag on forever. Suitably, “Brooklyn” is a stand out track, with crisp acoustic guitars and a confident vocal delivered over buoyant backing vocals. “Come Undone”, quite the Lucinda Williams homage with its gentle bluegrass feel, is another highlight – bright and upbeat and helped along with some engaging harmonies.

Zukerman delivers a very solid and consistent release that will appeal to most 30-something fans of folk rock. If you need a strong melody to maintain your interest, I don’t think this is going to cut it. Check out “Gas Station Roses” if you like Aimee Mann, Works Progress Administration, or Garrison Starr. The record comes out this March and will be performing a series of dates with the legendary Janis Ian and Tom Paxton.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 8

Natalia Zukerman - Official site.

Listen to “Brooklyn”

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Abandon Kansas “Abandon Kansas” [EP] - FREE

Abandon Kansas is a modern rock quartet led by powerhouse rock vocalist Jeremy Spring, who sounds a bit like Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) and Damon Johnson (Brother Cane). This new self-titled EP follows another one called “We’re All Going Somewhere”, and even contains two songs from it: “Months And Years” and “Close Your Eyes”. The first two songs, “Heaven Come My Way” and “The Golden State” are from their upcoming album, “Ad Astra Per Aspera” (due March 8).

I would describe the music of Abandon Kansas as moving rock and roll – reflective lyrics, soulful delivery, and thick hooks. “Heaven Come My Way” is an upbeat tune perfect to play to start your day on a positive and inspirational note. “The Golden State” is a slower premonition of a tune centered on California. For those who missed them on the previous EP, the final two tracks are also noteworthy modern rockers. This EP is currently available for FREE on – don’t abandon it.

Abandon Kansas on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Heaven Come My Way”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

DOKKEN "Under Lock and Key" (1985)

“Under Lock And Key" finds Dokken at their top of their game. This third release displayed a more mature approach to songwriting, featuring a brilliant bridging between classic heavy metal and 80s hard rock with some commercial feel, and the superior skills of the members. This is clearly the album that made me worship the band – there are many strong tracks spread all over the record and I'm always in awe with Don's mighty voice layered with Lynch's monstrous shredding.

From the opening, "Unchain The Night", this is pure heavy metal – just listen to Don's thunderous pipe crawling from the big verse to the catchy chorus. "Lightnin' Strikes Again" and "Til The Livin' End" also bring out the pounding drums, sky-cracking guitars, and some hellish solos, which are simply stunning. Three radio hits inside are also worth hearing: "The Hunter" is okay, "In My Dreams" has a nice chorus and deadly solos, but "It's Not Love" really caught my attention. The punchy rhythm and tense chorus are magnificent, no wonder Lynch declared that this is one of his most fave track. "Slippin' Away" is a sweet and tender ballad, an underrated piece that's shadowed by their previous hit, "Alone Again", which I think is inferior compared to this one.

If you haven't heard them before and would like to try the band, this album is a perfect pick for a starter. They got everything huge inside and after giving another spin for the hundredth time, this album is as fresh and great as ever and sits nicely in my top 10 albums of all time.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rare Trax: Marvelous 3 "Indie Queen"

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "Indie Queen" by the Marvelous 3 from their amazing 1999 album, "Hey! Album". Without question, this track is one of the most melodic tunes of the 90s, driven by the masterful skills of the prolific Butch Walker. Walker was introduced to the masses as a member of the hairband come lately Southgang, and today his solo career has produced diverse efforts with mixed reviews. To me, nothing tops his time in Marv3 and songs like "Indie Queen" illustrate why. One listen and this stunning chorus is in your head for life.

Listen to "Indie Queen"

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: The Spies “Televolution”

Based in Los Angeles and formed in late 2005, The Spies have been perfecting their brand of indie-pop for five years. With two self-released albums (“Old Ghosts” in 2007 and “Televolution” in 2009), two music videos, one national tour, and multiple song placements in Film and TV (CW, FOX, ABC) the band has been building a very loyal fan base since 2006. Conceived as collaboration between longtime friends and Philadelphia transplants, Leo Francis and Mark Matkevich, The Spies have evolved into much more with the addition of Adrian Barrio and Dylan Giagni.

“Televolution” manages to stay true to the band’s indie-pop roots, but has plenty of attitude and rock swagger to appeal to an even larger fan base. This record gets better on every spin – like any good spy, the hooks sneak up on you and eventually take you by surprise. Stealthy melodies! The brief welcoming tune “Bang Bang” features a bouncy piano beat and sets the stage for their sidestep in powerpop, but nothing more. The title track has a moodier, heavier groove to fit the lyrical content, but the mildly Beatles-inspired chorus makes for a satisfying juxtaposition. The upbeat “National Pastime” swings back towards the pop end of the spectrum with a solid hook in chorus worth returning to. “Radio Callout” is a perfect example of one of the tunes needing a couple spins to reap the rewards – this subtle tune doesn’t grab immediately, but with a repeat listen it becomes an addiction. “You Got Some Nerve” is one of my favorite tracks, with a slinky rock groove and sweet hook in the chorus. The harmonies in the chorus of “Paper Trail” make it a worthwhile listen as well.

“Televolution” is one of those rare discs catching a band reaching the end of the learning curve. Their next, third release promises the charm. Recommended in you like Stroke 9, Dada, or IKE.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 3, 4, 5, 7

The Spies on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “You Got Some Nerve”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cover tune catastrophe: It Ain't Me Babe

In this ongoing series, I will uncover some of the WORST cover tunes ever recorded. We’ve all encountered that unsettling feeling upon hearing a beloved song redone by another artist. What were they thinking? How dare they try to redo this song! While we are powerless to prevent these clowns from trashing the originals, we can call them out on it.

New Found Glory "It Ain't Me Babe" (Bob Dylan)

Modern punk band New Found Glory included this excruciating cover of Bob Dylan's classic in a number of live shows. The biting lyrics and understated beauty of Dylan's original is undetectable under the layers of soulless noise. I trust the band was trying to rev up the energy to make the music fit the theme of the lyrics, but it fails on every level.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: Jennifer Kaiser “Masquerade”

Pop rock/adult contemporary
From Miami Beach, the singer/songwriter Jennifer Kaiser has released her latest record “Masquerade”. For roughly a decade, Kaiser has been conceiving and polishing her work. She teamed up with Fernando Perdomo (Dreaming In Stereo) to produce and play bass on her album. Among these eleven tracks, there are fruits in their labors.

Kaiser has a soft-spoken beauty in her voice, it is whispery but gripping. At times, it has an uncanny resemblance to Nancy Wilson (Heart). Some of her vocal instincts are a bit unorthodox and travel to places you don’t expect them to go. Sometimes it is pleasantly surprising (“After All”), but other times it will leave you scratching your head (“Ice Cream”). At its worst, on a couple of tracks she sounds off key ("Bleeding Time"). The songs are generally well crafted and work well together to form a cohesive set and unified listen. Among the standout cuts are the slow burning “Wasted” and folk-driven “Machine”. “After All” is a gorgeous ballad that moves you on the first listen. There is a wondrous understated beauty in the melancholy “Break of Dawn” that makes this song very charming. The other tracks are OK, but are limited by inferior melodies or iffy vocals – there is room for growth for the next record.

Combining acoustic pop and rock with an occasional folk or country influence, this record should satisfy most fans of female singer/songwriters. Check out Jennifer Kaiser’s “Masquerade” if you enjoy Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLaughlin, or Shawn Colvin.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 4, 7

Jennifer KaiserOfficial site.

Listen to “Machine”

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: INXS “Original Sin”

It has been nearly 6 years since INXS made a respectable comeback with a new lead singer on their album called “Switch”. In the absence of any new material at the moment, INXS has released re-workings of some of their previous tunes featuring a myriad of different artists and styles. Not a very exciting premise to begin with, and the execution of this ill-fated idea is even worse than one can imagine. Just three tracks in and I was ready to throw in the towel – after starting the record with filler like “Drum Opera”, and an electronic version of “Meditate” by Tricky, and then an utterly annoying house version of “Original Sin” featuring Rob Thomas at his worst, it is clear the sin was making this record in the first place. Even Pat Monahan (Train) manages to strip away the perky charm of “Beautiful Girl”. The only meritorious cuts off this disaster are “New Sensation”, an acoustic version nicely done by Deborah de Corral, and “To Look At You”, which retains a cool 80s feel and features Kav Temperley.

Current lead singer for the band, JD Fortune (found during a reality TV show), lends vocals to an over the top rendition of “The Stairs”. If the album does anything, it reaffirms that JD Fortune is about as righteous of a substitute as you can get for the irreplaceable Michael Hutchence.

iPOD-worthy: 6, 9

INXSOfficial site.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Maker “Run and Hide” [EP]

From the UK, rock and roll purists Maker have released a three song EP entitled “Run and Hide”. Just a few notes in and you’ll feel transported back to the beginnings of classic rock. “Run and Hide” provides a taste of a band that stands to inherit the rock baton from The Black Crowes. Lead singer Alessandro Marinelli has the quintessential rock voice – scruffy and bold, but with a sense of soul - he can rip through a sizzling rocker such as the title track and then dip into his sensitive side for rootsy ballads like “Tell Me I’m Wrong”. On this track you’ll really hear the Black Crowes sound coming to the fore. “Pour Your Heaven” is a terrific blues jam you can’t help but nod your head along to – each member of the band is at the top of their game on this track.

Maker has the right groove and a sharp sound rare on the airwaves these days; if they can keep the melodies catchy their full-length release could transport them from the bar to the arena. Check out Maker if you like Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, and Faces.

Thanks to Lee over at Real Gone for tipping me off to this band.

Maker on Facebook.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Classic melodic rock CD of the week

By Stephen Kasenda

WHITENSNAKE "Whitesnake" (1987)

Reinforced by the howlin' wolf of David Coverdale and the prowling Tygers of John Sykes, Whitesnake successfully invaded the States and racked up eight platinum rewards with this sensational eponymous record. The victorious conquest even boosted the prior album, "Slide It In" from gold to double platinum status and most of the band's videos received heavy rotation on MTV, featuring Tawny Kitaen who later married the singer. The musical composition is a bluesy hard rock extract that's soaked with lavish commercial hooks and savage shreddings.

"Still of The Night", a classic Zeppelin-Snake heavy metal slap, is considered their best with the distinctive Coverdale wail, but it is not my favorite. I still prefer "Children of The Night" - this is their heaviest tune with frantic riffage and the "Are you ready to rock?" shout being a huge concert igniter. The gigantic single, "Here I Go Again", is better here compared to "Saints and Sinners" era, and I love how Sykes abuses his whammy bar in "Cryin' In The Rain", probably his best offering throughout the album. Almost all tracks here are enjoyable, including the party anthem, "Bad Boys", "Straight For The Heart", and "Give Me All Your Love".

The second biggest single, "Is This Love", is no doubt the greatest ballad the Coverdale-Sykes pair has ever written, showcasing an outpouring of emotion, this song is the most frequent Whitesnake song you may encounter in your local karaoke station. While "Lookin' For Love" has potential to be their bluesy hit, takin' off slow and easy before flying high with Sykes’ stunning solo, "Don't Turn Away" on the other side, is a blunt attempt and perhaps the worst one here.

This is a quintessential release of 1987 and can be a very good start if you're new to the band. Many old fans hated their significant departure from the idealistic bluesy hard rock platform, but if you're curious on how they blend the blues and the typical catchiness of late 80s glam metal, "1987" is the best option around.

Read more of Stephen’s features at MetalMusicArchives.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rare Trax: The Odds "I Would Be Your Man"

Every Saturday at BMF we present rare or deep tracks from my collection for your listening pleasure, or perhaps for your amusement!

This week’s track is "I Would Be Your Man" by The Odds from their 1996 album, "Good Weird Feeling". This alternative rock band with pop rock leanings got lost in the shuffle among Gin Blossoms and Better Than Ezra. You can find this CD for a penny and they are worth looking into for gems like this track.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review: Caddy “Electric Hero”

From out of Norway comes Tomas Dahl, the one-man “band” dubbed Caddy. Having played in powerpop bands including The Yum Yums and Wonderfools, Dahl describes the music of Caddy as “Paul Stanley and Bryan Adams writing songs together…in Brian Wilson’s house”. Caddy boasts “brilliant pop sense, beautiful harmonies, and choruses as catchy as Chlamydia”. So I slipped on a condom and started listening.

Dahl takes the label “one man band” quite literally – he wrote all the songs, played all the instruments, produced the album, and even did all of the harmonies himself. So either he’s an overachieving control freak or simply has no friends – whatever the case may be, it doesn’t alter the fact that Caddy’s debut contains some of the best powerpop and rock I’ve heard of late. These fourteen tracks radiate pop rock goodness and were written as if each one were going to be a single, and Dahl gets to take all of the credit.

The first four tracks are stupendous and - quite unbelievably - top one another as they progress. With endless crunchy riffs and hooks sharper than cactus spines, these songs will have you at hello. “Hanging On To Nothing” is a rousing Cheap Trick meets Kiss opener, leading into the more radio-friendly sound of the title track. “Turn Up The Radio” shifts up into a decidedly more rocking gear, flaunting the diversity of Dahl’s talent. Despite the grittier verses, the track easily slides into a sugary sweet chorus and then back again. Fuzzy guitar greets us at the start of “Keep On Waiting” – but you’re not waiting long until another shimmering melody hits you in the face. Caddy brings the sunshine back again with “Dumb Angel”, complete with handclaps and Beach Boys styled harmonies in the coda. If the Partridge Family jammed with Collective Soul, something like “The Perfect Alibi” might be the result – one of my favorite choruses on the record. The closest thing to a ballad you’ll hear on this record is the closer, “Long Way Home”, another harmony-laden highlight that ends the album with finesse.

Caddy is hands down one of the best releases of 2011 – not a loser in the bunch. I look forward to listening to this one over and over, Chlamydia be damned!

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14

Caddy on MySpace.

Listen to “Turn Up The Radio”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review: Levi Kreis “Where I Belong”

Adult Contemporary
Levi Kreis has been making some moves on many fronts – writing, recording, singing, and acting. All four are connected by a common thread: his passion for music. He won a Tony Award in 2010 for his portrayal of the great Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet, a shoe-in for the role as his own piano playing has been described as “like watching somebody speaking in tongues”. On the music side he has been making big strides, sharing the stage with the likes of Melissa Etheridge and Collective Soul, even though he really doesn’t sound anything like either of those artists.

“Where I Belong” is his third record – it first hit stores in May 2009 but has been making new waves lately on the heels of successful singles such as “Nothing At All” and “Gonna Be Alright”. The music of Levi Kreis is distinctly adult contemporary, but difficult to categorize further as it is an amalgamation of pop, R&B, and gospel. Listen hard enough and you can hear those southern roots from this Tennessee native buried under the high gloss sheen of his Hollywood sound.

While the music is geared towards adults, the lyrics are surprisingly childish. Positive and inspiring at times, but pretty corny. “Gonna Be Alright” is all right – a jangly piano a la New Radicals over a moderate rap a la Jason Mraz. He throws a little love for Stevie Wonder in the lyrics, “I think the only thing that’s keeping me alive is a good cup of coffee and songs in the key of life”, and borrows generously from him in other songs. The next track to hold my attention was a grand piano ballad, “Nothing At All”, reminding me of Joshua Kadison. “Everything” is a sweet tune with horns providing a sunny vibe that is sure to get some toes tapping and heads nodding. “No Apologies” comes across like Gavin DeGraw fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd backed by a gospel choir – might be hard to imagine, but it actually works in some places. The disparate musical styles he likes to blend mesh better in the anthem “Not Afraid”.

For me, Levi Kreis is a little too glitzy and a little too adult for my tastes, and the music lacks strong hooks. One thing no one can dispute, however, is that Kreis has a skilled voice with a warm tone - a winning combination if he can find some truly memorable songs. Still, there’s a little something in here on “Where I Belong” for fans of Mat Kearney, Gavin DeGraw, and Michael Buble.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 5, 6, 11

Levi Kreis on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Gonna Be Alright”

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review: Richard X. Heyman “Tiers – And Other Stories”

The one and only Richard X. Heyman is back with “Tiers – And Other Stories”, an ambitious 31 song, 2CD set. He last impressed us with “Actual Sighs” not long ago (review here). Richard X. Heyman is a veteran singer/songwriter that pretty much does everything himself, making many a musician envious that so much diverse talent can be bundled into just one man. Sounding like a cross between Elvis Costello and Tom Petty, Heyman’s vocal styling is a perfect fit for his intelligent pop rock for adults.

Heyman emphasizes that these 2CDs are not necessarily related – while “Tiers” is more like a concept album and love letter to his wife Nancy Leigh, “And Other Stories” recounts topics that he and Nancy have lived through in more recent times - ranging from 9/11 to animal rescue to losing friends and loved ones. The epic saga begins on a surprisingly downbeat note with “Hot On The Trial of Innocence” – Heyman is easing us into this long musical journey with a beautiful and reflective piece. His trademark piano quickly brightens the room with the appropriately titled, “Golden In This Town” – classic Heyman. Many of the other songs veer from the jubilant pop his fans expect, venturing into more esoteric and experimental territory. That would be fine if only the roads led us somewhere interesting, like in the moving ballad “Everyone’s Moving In The Wrong Direction”. But with exception of “One Thing I Still Have” and “The Empire Lights”, the delectable melodies that I’ve come to expect from Heyman just aren’t there.

With some notable exceptions, the second disc contains songs even less memorable. “Branded In The Sky” is probably my favorite upbeat song of the new 31 tunes. The gorgeous “Beyond The Setting Sun” is the best ballad in the batch, with one of the sharpest hooks on the release. “When Willy Played Guitar” is a touching and celebratory tribute to Willy Kirchofer, a bandmate from Heyman’s days in The Doughboys who passed away in 2005. “The Finish Line” is an aptly titled highlight toward the end of this opus, as Heyman sings, “I’m heading toward the finish line”. At this point, after 120 minutes of Heyman, some listeners are going to be grateful for that (yet he still cranks out 3 more tunes before finally calling it a day!).

When seated in front of a buffet this decadent and large, it is easy to become overstuffed quickly. There is a great album spread out amongst these two discs, but the more casual fan is likely to grow impatient with the main course being interrupted by lesser courses. Sometimes less is more. “Tiers – And Other Stories” arrives April 19, 2011. Check it out if you like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, or Elvis Costello.

Disc 1 (Tiers): 1, 2, 10, 13, 14
Disc 2 (And Other Stories): 4, 8, 9, 13, 14

Richard X. Heyman - Official site.

Listen to “Branded In The Sky”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review: Band of Horses “Infinite Arms”

Here’s another one I missed in 2010 – the major label debut, but third album, by Band of Horses. It made a lot of top 10 lists, but some fans from the band’s first two records are not pleased with the high gloss production and greater accessibility of “Infinite Arms”.

“Infinite Arms” is my introduction to the band, and with this record they’ve made quite an impression on me. This is melodic folk rock that features striking harmonies that draw comparisons to The Eagles and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Hard to believe this band is from the same city best known for producing the abrasive grunge sound 20 years ago. Band of Horses is as mellow and dreamy as their title would suggest.

Right out of the gate, Band of Horses begins “Infinite Arms” with the majestic and swirling sound of “Factory”. The grandiose, soaring atmosphere lifts you into an otherworldly place. The heavier “Compliments” brings things back down to earth, with guitars digging into the dirt. These two songs display the versatility of the band, which can swing effortlessly between gritty and soft rock. But these guys are just getting started. “Laredo” is even more accessible with a memorable chorus and wrenching lyrics. The pace slows down for “Blue Beard”, but this is not to say things get boring; on the contrary, the melody in this song is spectacular. The mid-tempo and harmony-laden “Dilly” is another highlight (video below). There are a number of other ballads that don’t raise the hair on your arms, but are listenable connections to the better songs.

Band of Horses are running on strong legs at the moment – let’s hope they don’t go in circles but rather continue to run free despite major label influence. Recommended if you like Keane, Coldplay, or The Decemberists.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 11

Band of Horses on MySpace. Official site.

Check out the video for “Dilly”