Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hilary McRae - Through These Walls (2008)

Hilary McRae is the first new artist signed by Hear Music, the label affiliated with Starbucks, the giant coffee shop chain. The piano playing composer won a scholarship from the Berklee School of Music so we know this quite attractive 21 year old must have an abundance of talent. She also appears to have an affection for one of my favorite bands from the 70s, the famous horn band, Chicago.

McRae's debut CD, Through These Walls became a surprise hit. It peaked at # 17 on Billboard Magazine's Heatseekers chart and #22 on the magazine's Hot Adult Contemporary chart.

Charlie Callelo, who in the 70s worked with both Blood, Sweat, & Tears and Bruce Springsteen while at Columbia Records, did the arrangements.

Considering all of the above I assumed I would like this CD more than I do but, unfortunately, I don't. It also appears that I am in the minority. The main reason I can only marginally recommend this popular disc is because it was recorded too loudly. I know Through These Walls is rock 'n roll so I don't expect the record to be quiet. Even so, the producers have pushed the volume of everything beyond the point of reason. McRae's alto voice is too loud, as are the guitars, keyboards, and drums. Collectively they nearly bury the horn section that everyone is so happy to have on board.

McRae also needs to sharpen up her lyrics. If she can't find someone like Bernie Taupin to write for her she needs to at least hire a lyricist who can tweak her songs. For example "Love Song For You" contains the line "I don't care what they say, I love you anyway." The line isn't worthy of somebody with a Berklee degree.

"Every Day (When Will You Be Mine)," the very bouncy and boisterous opener, is a quality track, as are "Why Can't Now" and a few others, but overall I was expecting more.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Los Lonely Boys - Forgiven (2008)

Los Lonely Boys are back with their third studio album in just four years, and fortunately, Forgiven proves there has been no drop off in quality. The Garza Brothers have retained their signature sound that can easily be described as Stevie Ray Vaughan with three part harmonies.

This young but now veteran roots trio has made another fine album that rocks your socks while providing lead guitarist Henry Garza with an abundance of opportunities to prove he can wield his axe with any of the best bluesmen on the planet. Garza shows off his stuff on the CD's opening track "Heart Won't Tell A Lie." The whole trio burns on a hard hitting take of The Spencer Davis Group's "I'm A Man," which is just as exciting as the original, and "Superman" rocks out as much as any mainstream music possibly can.

The trio's more middle-of-the-road pop songs demonstrate their ability to write memorable melodies with some of the best vocal harmonies on the current rock scene. The title cut is excellent but the real pop gem is the single, "Staying With Me," a tune possessing one of the catchiest vocal hooks that I've heard in quite a long time. The song is perfectly titled because its melody will "stay with you." It's simply impossible to get it out of your head.

Forgiven is more stripped down and to the point than it's more produced predecessor, 2006's Sacred. This outing mostly features the brothers with only minimal outside help from Dr. John on three tracks and some extra percussion assistance from Steve Jordan on "I'm A Man." There are no strings, brass, large ensembles, or layered production techniques.

Los Lonely Boys continue to impress.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Smithereens Prove That The 80s Weren't Entirely A Rock 'N Roll Wasteland

The Smithereens prove two musical axioms. The first one is that not all rock 'n roll bands are rewarded with success commensurate with their talents and the second one is that not all 80s rock was a gigantic waste of time. The latter is true because The Smithereens' music stays true to its roots. They offer the listener real rock 'n roll played with real instruments. You won't hear synths or computers anywhere on their albums.

Lead singer and composer Pat DiNizio and his band have an affection for the British Invasion and mid-60s American rock. The Smithereens, now in existence for over twenty years, have remained loyal to the sub-genre without sounding dated because they have always stretched their musical boundaries. What they do best is take their loud, guitar based arrangements, add lots of heavy bass ("Blood and Roses" from their 1986 debut, Especially For you, is an example of their superlative deep bottom sound) and very catchy, melodic, vocal hooks. The combination should have given them a huge following, especially with people who like both hard rock and good pop songwriting.

Unfortunately The Smithereens never quite achieved stardom. Just as "Too Much Passion" from their fourth CD, 1991's Blow Up, was released and climbing the charts the quartet was buried under the avalanche rolling downhill from Seattle. After Nirvana, flannel, and grunge all struck it big The Smithereens learned to be satisfied with their devoted cult following. The New Jersey band lamented their fate on their fifth CD, 1994's A Date With The Smithereens, with DiNizio proclaiming the band was "Sick Of Seattle."

Unfortunately after Blow Up DiNizio's songwriting gift appears to have vanished. A live album, two albums of Beatles covers, and a brand new Christmas CD, all seem to prove that the band has lost it's way as a creative force. Let's hope that DiNizio can regain his composing gift so we can all be treated to some mighty fine, unpretentious rock 'n roll once again.

Despite the downturn in The Smithereens recording career they are still a great live band. I saw them at an outdoor music festival this past summer and they jammed their hearts out.

In addition to those already mentioned some of the outfit's other best known songs include "Behind The Wall Of Sleep," "A Girl Like You," and "Only A Memory."