Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fitz And The Tantrums Pickin' Up The Pieces 2010

Fitz And The Tantrums are dedicated to the sound of Philly soul and the white R&B that emulated it in the eighties. This shouldn't work. But it does, and in spades.

It helps that Fitz has the pipes, and the assistance he gets from Noelle Scaggs is formidable. Together they are some bizarre hybrid between the obvious reference, Hall and Oates, and the O'Jays. You'll hear bits of Backstabbers and Rubber Band Man, but Fitz is both derivative and original. Or at least as original as anything going these days.

The songs are remarkably solid, and what these guys can do with bass, drums, sax and keyboards is pretty impressive. The melodies sound both familiar and fresh. In much the same way that Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings recall sixties James Brown, Fitz and the Tantrums sounds like the O'Jays and the Spinners, with just a little more rockin' in the rhythm section.

Highlights include the singles MoneyGrabber and Don't Gotta Work It Out, and both are spectacular. Breakin' The Chains Of Love, Dear Mr. President, Pickin' Up The Pieces, Tighter and Winds Of Change are all very strong tunes with great arrangements, and fine vocals. Seven rock solid tunes out of ten. Darn fine odds. And the other three are fine, just not quite up to the best.

If this were my debut, I'd be very very worried about a sophomore slump. This one will be hard to follow.

There's a great episode of Live From Daryl's House. It's a fun show to check out if you haven't seen it.

Go ahead, buy it, sing it, dance to it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stacey Kent Dreamer In Concert 2011

I've never been crazy about live rock records. In the rock and roll and pop genres, there's plenty of good ones, but I always find my personal favorites are studio recordings. In the jazz field, things are different. Many of my jazz favorites are live recordings. Maybe it is the spontaneous nature of jazz music in general.

Here is a new live jazz CD from one of my favorite singers. The band (husband Jim Tomlinson on sax, Graham Harvey on piano, and Jeremy Brown and Matt Skelton on bass and drums, respectively) is fine, moving though these tunes seemingly effortlessly. And it takes enormous effort to pull that off. Stacey is herself, a little coquettish, and a consummate performer who consistently inhabits her material. She adds guitar to several songs. Recorded in Paris, there are several songs in French, and one in Portuguese.

There are also a handful of classic jazz standards, and a few from Tomlinson's pen, two new ones plus the recent Breakfast On The Morning Tram. Everything is splendid. The new material is as good as the rest, and Dreamer itself, a Carlos Antonio Jobim song, is magnificent in it's soft, swinging beauty.

Never in your face, never aggressive, always fascinating, this is music to sip something to. You can listen to it as background music, but you'd be making a big mistake. It deserves your full attention.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Black Keys El Camino 2011

I've really struggled with this one. I'm making myself write it. Like the other mid-western blues-based guitar-drums duo, Detroit's White Stripes, Akron's Black Keys leave me cold. The two-man band idea seems just a little too garage for my tastes. I've heard quite a bit of their music, but I haven't fallen in love. I get what they're doing, it just doesn't resonate with me.

Everyone points to this as their most pop, most accessible recording yet. So I had to try the record, and I've given it several listens.

The first three tracks are all hot. The stomping swamp rock of Lonely Boy, the shining Britpop of Dead And Gone, and the Dirty Mind-era Prince of Gold On The Ceiling are all good. Money Maker's solid blues riff-rock and Hell Of A Season's sweet guitar sound are highlights. Stop Stop is a blues rhythm married to reggae guitar that's pretty slick. Nova Baby is a quality pop song. The songwriting is remarkably consistent.

The drummer's hot, and the guitarist, too. The singing is good but not anything amazing. Get these guys a Robert Plant, and you've got my attention. The primal blues rock that absorbs a thousand influences is impressive, but in the end it's still primal blues rock, and I daresay that's just not working for me. I like AC/DC and ZZ Top, why wouldn't I love these guys? Maybe it's the singer thing, maybe I'm not 26 anymore.

This is a great Black Keys CD. I like it more than anything I've heard from the band before. But if you love them already, it might be too commercial for you. It's still not quite commercial enough for me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sean Hayes Run Wolves Run 2010

My wife first heard Sean Hayes' Powerful Stuff on a Subaru commercial. This seems to be the hot new preferred method of both making some good dough and acquiring an audience for your work. She wanted me to get the one song at iTunes, which I sometimes do even though the quality of their improved mp3 still sucks, but after checking out the samples, I decided to give the CD a try. 

Sean Hayes makes the most out of the simple guitar-bass-drums settings in which these songs find themselves wrapped. He has a nice, expressive voice with a folky rasp and a swell high register, and he writes some good melodies and lyrics. And the arrangements, though simple, are kept interesting with a variety of dynamic changes.

Highlights include the opener When We Fall In, a catchy folk-pop that almost sounds like Eric Hutchinson, Powerful Stuff, another snappy number with a hot vocal and excellent acoustic guitar lead, So Down, a sexy come-on of funky fun, and the funky rock of Gunnin, with its fat fuzz bass (or over-driven Wurlitzer?). One Day The River (riff rock with guest Brazilian drummers) and Soul Shaker (pop-rock with hooks) also shine, as does the slow blues of Open Up A Window, especially Hayes' electric lead guitar.

There are a few weaker songs, and there are a few times when Hayes gets overly repetitive with a lyrical idea. Sometimes this sounds like a deliberate technique, other times it sounds like he didn't write enough lyrics for a whole song. But for the most, this is very nicely done singer-songwriter folk-pop-rock that has enough good songs and performances (more than a majority for sure) to make it easy to recommend.

Andrew Borger's drums and Devin Hoff's bass offer fine underpinning for Hayes' guitar and occasional electric piano. Their efforts should not be understated. A modern day troubadour, and a fine record.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hall & Oates Abandoned Lucheonette 1973 and Daryl Hall & John Oates 1975

Hall and Oates. I know a lot of people aren't fond, but guilty pleasure is pleasure just the same. The Philly soul sound mixed with some lite rock is a tempting proposition. And hey kids, I'll bet there's used vinyl aplenty.

Abandoned Luncheonette 1973 was their second outing for Atlantic, and I put it on today ready to write a shining review. The first side is classic. When The Morning Comes, Had I Known You Better Then ("I would have said those three old words"), Las Vegas Turnaround (The Stewardess Song), which precedes the coming Sara Smile with both a similar melody and a reference to Sara herself, She's Gone (the single, and worthy), and I'm Just A Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like A Man), a perfect young man's blues with a sweet Philly soul chorus.

But then you come to side two, and things fall apart pretty quick. I could spell it out, but there's little redeaming value to the second half.

Next up was the profound mistake of War Babies 1974, a Todd Rundgren-produced nightmare attempt to make Hall & Oates into Meatloaf. It worked better with Meatloaf, which isn't saying much.

But Darryl Hall & John Oates 1975 was the bomb. Camelia, Sara Smile, Nothing At All, Ennui On The Mountain, It Doesn't Matter Anymore, and Soldering are all killer white Philly soul-pop-rock, with hooks galore and harmony-filled choruses. And that crazy cover, like they wanted to be Ziggy Stardust. It's a wonder they ever found an audience.

They went on to bigger things, but better, I'm not convinced.