Friday, March 23, 2007

Year in Music 2006 - Part I

2006 Shows

In 2006, I saw 11 shows at 9 different venues.

Evan Dando at the Tin Angel 1/27
Rhett Miller and the Believers at the TLA 4/7
Alkaline Trio at the Electric Factory 4/14
The Strokes at the Electric Factory 4/23
Pearl Jam at the Tweeter Center 5/27
The Black Crowes (with Drive-By Truckers) at Festival Pier 7/29
Sleater-Kinney at the Starlight 7/31
Foo Fighters (acoustic) at the Tower Theatre 8/16
Rancid at the Trocadero 8/19
The Living End at the TLA 11/20
The Lemonheads at the North Star 12/14

Best Live, Rare, EP, Soundtrack, and Compilation Albums of the Year

The Black Crowes – “Lost Crowes (aka the Tall and Band Sessions)” (Rhino/WEA). This was a much-anticipated release for Black Crowes fans who have long waited for the release of the “lost albums” from the mid 90’s. A few of these rare songs were already known to fans. But these are actually 2 completed albums. Most of the Tall sessions disc contain tracks that would eventually appear on Amorica in 1994 and a few appeared on Three Snakes and One Charm in 1996. It’s a sprawling 16-track album with lots of early version of these familiar songs along with 8 previously unreleased songs. These include some familiar songs from their live sets over the years such as “Feathers”, “Tied Up and Swallowed”, and “Sunday Buttermilk Waltz.”

The Band sessions disc consists of 10 previously unreleased songs. This album was recorded between 1996 and 1998 and was shelved completely in favor of 1999’s By Your Side. “Paint an 8” and “Another Roadside Tragedy” have appeared in their live sets over the years. And “If It Ever Stops Raining” is an early version of what would become the title track of By Your Side. All in all, these are definitely worthwhile additions to the collection to capture a band during their peak output years.

The Black Keys – “Chulahoma” (Fat Possum). This was a decent stopgap EP to fulfill their remaining contract on Fat Possum records. It contains 6 covers of one of their cult favorites, blueman Junior Kimbrough. You can definitely hear his influence on them. They also covered his song “Do the Rump” on their 2002 album The Big Come Up. It’s not a straight-ahead blues set, though. Some of the songs have a 60’s hippie/psychedelic feel to them. “Keep Your Hands Off Her”, “Have Mercy on Me”, and “Meet Me in the City” are welcome additions to the Black Keys catalogue. This is definitely worth picking up if you are a fan of their previous work.

Desoto Jones – “Stay Awake Stay Alive” EP (Negative Progression). I saw this band open for the Living End in November and they were the best of the 3 opening bands that night. They had a very impressive live show, so I picked up their EP for $1. It’s in the Thursday or Saves the Day mold. I get the feeling they might be one of those Christian bands, but they don’t really advertise it as openly as some others. The one band member was wearing a shirt promoting some church group on the EP sleeve. Anyway, it was a pretty good listen. They have a good sense of melody that is lacking sometimes with a lot of the newer emo/screamo bands.

The Foo Fighters – “Skin and Bones“ (RCA). For anyone who saw the acoustic Foos tour last summer (aka AFoostic tour), there are no surprises on here. Instead this live acoustic album is more like a high quality bootleg of the show you saw, minus about 5 or 6 tracks and great Grohl banter for editing purposes, so it would all fit on one disc. . That show at the Tower was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen – a definite top 10’er. They only played about 10 or 12 dates on this mini-tour last summer and I was fortunate that Philly was one of them. This allowed them to play a lot of the quieter songs on the 2nd disc of 2005’s In Your Honor and then re-work a lot of older songs acoustically. And they also debuted a new b-side, called “Skin and Bones” from whence this album got its title. Besides the newer songs, some of the other highlights were country-ish take on “Big Me”, “Walking After You”, Nirvana b-side “Marigold”, “February Stars”, and of course, “Everlong.”

R.E.M. – “And I Feel Fine: The Best of the IRS Years 1982-1987” (IRS/Capitol). I’m a sucker for getting R.E.M compilations. And this is a good one. It covers their first 5 proper albums on IRS – Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Life’s Rich Pageant, and Document + their first release – the EP Chronic Town. They create a best of on Disc 1 from those releases. I’d still rank Reckoning, Pageant, and Document among the best ever albums, period, let alone R.E.M.’s best. The 2nd disc contains each of the 4 original band member’s favorite few tracks from each album that didn’t make the cut for 1st disc, along with some rare alternative takes and early live cuts from shows in 1983. It’s a must-have for any R.E.M. fan.

The Replacements – “The Best Of: Don’t You Know Who I Think Was?” (Rhino). This is the first Replacements’ collection to include tracks from both their Twin Tone years (1980-1984) and their Sire/Reprise years (1985-1991). So for that alone it was worth adding to the library if you are a fan. And it includes two new tracks recorded with the 3 living original members – Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, and Chris Mars, along with honorary Replacement drummer Josh Freese. “Message to the Boys” and “Pool and Dive” are both pretty good. And if this is a sign of things to come from a new Westerberg-Stinson collaboration, then it has a chance to be pretty good without hurting their legacy.

Various Artists – “Open Season Soundtrack” (Lost Highway). This was basically a Paul Westerberg EP. He scored the movie and wrote and recorded seven new songs for the soundtrack. It also includes an older song “Good Day” from Eventually. And two other songs were written by him but recorded by others – “I Belong” performed by Pete Yorn and “Wild As I Wanna Be” performed by Death Ray Davies. Death Ray Davies also have one of their songs on here and there is also the Talking Heads’ classic “Wild Wild Life.” Westerberg also performed his own version of “I Belong”, which was receving early buzz as a possible nomination for Best Song at the Academy Awards. And the other 6 songs are very good – “Meet Me in the Meadow”, “Love You in the Fall”, “Any Better Than This”, “Right to Arm Bears”, “All About Me”, and “Whisper Me Luck.” “Love You in the Fall” and “Right to Arm Bears” feature collaborations between Westerberg and ex-Replacement Tommy Stinson. The drummer for these sessions was Gersh, who was the drummer in Stinson’s last band – Perfect. “Love You in the Fall” definitely sounds like something that would have fit well on Mono. “Right to Arm Bears” has a classic Westerbergian title and seems like a silly song for a kids’ movie, but lyrically it’s actually a pretty witty and insightful commentary on hunting from the animals’ point of view, as well as a bit of a criticism of the Second Amendment. And “Whisper Me Luck” sounds like something that would have fit well on Stereo. “Any Better Than This” sounds a lot like “Tears Rolling Up Our Sleeves” from Suicaine Gratifaction. It does seem like he leaves a lot of A-side material on the shelf during the recording of every album that he can just pull out when needed for projects like this. All in all, it was a really good record.

The Rest

AFI – “DecemberUnderground” (Interscope). I was looking forward to what AFI would sound like with a more polished sound now that they were working with producer Jerry Finn (Blink-182, Green Day). But I think the results were mixed. They kind of got thrown into the emo genre in the early 00’s, even though they were really more of an old school punk band with some Nine Inch Nails influence. This record is definitely much more poppy than anything they’ve done previously. I thought it was a little disaspointing though, compared to 2003’s Sing the Sorrow. The lead single “Miss Murder” bounces along with a bass line that sounds like something from Green Day’s last few records. Other standout tracks include “Endlessly, She Said”, “Love Like Winter”, “Summer Shudder”, and “The Missing Frame.” Many of the tracks sound very distinct, showing off the different influences, yet it works together fairly well.

Angels and Airwaves – “We Don’t Need to Whisper“ (Geffen). I should have known better. I got this on a whim after a strong recommendation from someone whose musical opinion I used to value at a party last spring. This is Tom DeLonge’s (Blink-182) new project after it appears Blink-182 has broken up, or at least gone on hiatus. It sounds like a “mature Blink-182” which is sort of an oxymoron. If I wanted to listen to Death Cab For Cutie, The Walkmen, or Nada Surf, I would. Blink-182’s charm, when it still had it, was its melodic pop/punk songs and their immaturity. The Ramones never “matured” and thank god for that. Blink-182 never got too deep and that was fine when it was good. Anyway, the lead single “The Adventure” is decent. Not much else on here worth your time. Imagine Blink-182, but with 4-5 minute songs with lots of keyboards and strings and not as many pop/punk hooks. I hear ya….why bother?

The Annuals – “Be He Me” (Ace Fu). This band was getting buzz as “the next R.E.M.” last summer. It’s tough to describe them. They remind me a little of the New Pornographers or early Radiohead, except with a lot more twang since they are from North Carolina. So I guess somewhere in between Camper Van Beethoven and the New Pornographers would best describe them, or maybe just as a more melodic CVB. You hear the fiddles and cellos augmenting the pop/rock melodies. I liked it, but it just didn’t grab me as much as some other records. “Mama”, “Brother”, “Dry Clothes”, and “Bleary-Eyed” are the best tracks.

Art Brut – “Bang Bang Rock & Roll” (Banana/Fierce Panda). I heard a lot of hype about Art Brut in the fall, so I finally picked up this album. It has its moments, but I didn’t think it was worthy of all of the year-end top-10-album hype it was generating. I just have a hard time getting past the lead singer Eddie Argos’ cockney British accent. John Lennon talked with an accent like that, but he sung much better. Billy Bragg kind of has the same thing going on, so his voice was always an acquired taste and now I enjoy it. But it took awhile. With Argos it hasn’t clicked yet with me. Too often it sounds like Benny Hill singing. And many of the lyrics are really spoken more than sung. They are comparable to Franz Ferdinand or the Arctic Monkeys, but I just don’t think their songs are as good. And at times they reminded me of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. I guess it was a pretty good debut, but you wonder how far they can take this. Their songs all tend to run together and sound the same. I wouldn’t turn them off if I heard them on the radio, but I also wouldn’t pay close attention to the song either. My favorite tracks of this similar bunch are “Formed a Band”, “Emily Kane”, “Rusted Guns of Milan”, the title track, “Good Weekend”, “Moving to L.A.”, and “Bad Weekend.” And that is mainly because they have some standout lyrical phrases. One plus is that 15 tracks are packed into about 40 minutes. They don’t mess around. Overall it wasn’t a bad album, but I was just disappointed in it after all the hype it received.

Beck – “The Information” (Interscope). I just had a really difficult time getting into this album this year. I’ll probably end up giving it more of a chance to grow on me in 2007. I just liked his last 2 releases so much – Sea Change and Guero. And this was kind of like a mix of those releases with some influence from his dance album Midnight Vultures. Beck is back with producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead). And from what I’ve read, most of these tracks were actually written and recorded right after Sea Change, but were shelved when he started working on what became Guero with the Dust Brothers. And I thought it sorely lacked guitar, focusing more on rhythm than melody. On subsequent listens I found myself getting into it more, as the dance and hip-hop tracks aren’t as prominent as they seemed on early listens. And you can appreciate the meticulous production on many of the tracks after many listens. But there does seem to be too much filler. “Think I’m in Love”, “Strange Apparition”, “Nausea”, and even “Cellphone’s Dead’ are pretty good. Overall, I still found it disappointing though.

Jay Bennett – “The Magnificent Defeat” (Rykodisc). This album received a lot of word-of-mouth among like-minded fans. And many reviewers called it Bennett’s best so far, since he was fired from Wilco in 2001. I think the songs fit together really well here, but I don’t think the Elvis Costello-esque high points are as high on here as on some of his other records. Bennett was an essential part of Wilco as a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, keyboards, piano, etc) and producer – so much so that it has taken more than one person to replace him since he was dismissed from the band. And fans of melodic pop/rock will find lots to like here, just as on his previous work. This is definitely a good record to listen to with headphones on so you hear all of Bennett’s production talents as well. Don’t be scared away by the opening track “Slow Beautifully Seconds Faster” – perhaps the least catchy track on the record. It’s just a noisy pop explosion. But from there on out, it gets really good. Fans of Costello, Tom Petty, the Lemonheads, the Kinks, Let it Bleed-era Rolling Stones, and of course Summerteeth-era Wilco will enjoy this. As with every release so far, a few of the tracks will be familiar to Wilco completists, as some older outtakes that never made the cut on Wilco albums show up, along with some tracks that Bennett played live in a band called the K-Sets (consisting of then current and future Wilco members) during his time in Wilco. “5th Grade”, “Wide Open”, “The Palace at 4 AM”, “Replace You”, “Out All Night”, “Survey the Damage”, and “Overexcusers” are the best tracks.

Blood Feathers – “Curse and Praise” (Box Theory). I picked up this CD on a whim after reading a good review in the Inquirer during the summer. It’s a pretty good record. Blood Feathers are based in Philly and consists of 2 guys: Ben Dickey and Drew Mills who both play mostly guitars with lots of harmony vocals. On the first few listens some of it reminded me of Tom Petty meets the Strokes. On further listens it actually kind of reminded me of a twangy Capitol Years. Overall, it was a pretty good find. It gets better with every listen.

Brand New – “The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Of Me” (Interscope). This didn’t come out until mid-November and I didn’t get it until very late in 2006. I really loved Brand New’s last record Deja Entendu. This one just hasn’t done much for me as of yet. It’s in the same style as their previous stuff, with a little bit more of a darker side. But I just don’t think the songs are as good, at least on the first several listens. This is also their first album on Interscope, as they moved to a major label. In some cases the lyrics are almost whispered. “The Archers Bows Have Broken”, “Not the Sun”, “Degausser”, and “Sowing Season” are pretty good. I’m sure this will grow on me more in 2007, but so far it hasn’t clicked. With so much soft/loud changes in the music, this album is best enjoyed on headphones.

Neko Case – “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” (Anti). I don’t even know how to categorize Neko Case. She’s had 4 solo records now and also has done 3 records with the New Pornographers. Usually, she’s labeled as “country”, but I find her to be rootsy pop, if that is even a genre. She has one of the best, most versatile powerful voices around and it’s perfect for this style. She blends country, soul, folk, and pop into something that seems like basic roots/Americana music. I could picture her singing just about anything well. I was listening to my iPod on shuffle a few months ago and a track from the Sundays came on. And it struck me just how much Case’s music reminds me of them. Yet, the Sundays were considered altenative back in the early 90’s. “Star Witness” and “Maybe Sparrow” are the essentials here. The rest flows well, but without the memorable high points.

Johnny Cash – “American V: A Hundred Highways“ (American). This album debuted at #1 on the charts in the spring, giving the deceased Cash his first #1 album in about 40 years. This was another batch of songs from his American Recordings with Rick Rubin. It’s his 5th proper album with Rubin since the middle 1990’s and they also released that 5-CD boxed set of material from this era in late 2003. The rumors are there are lots more material from this era as well, so we could conceivably be seeing a half a dozen more releases by Cash in the next 10 years. During the final years of his life he spent most of his time in the studio. Rick Rubin wrote in the album notes that this album was completed shortly before his death. And they were just about to begin mixing it when he died. His condition worsened during this recording and you can really hear the differences in the strength of his voice, based on how he was feeling that particular day. As Rubin noted, “sometimes it booms and sometimes it’s weak and vulnerable.” But it’s always a true, honest sounding voice, which is perfect for storytelling. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is a great song and very poignant considering Cash’s health at the time. And the album closer “I’m Free from the Chain Gang Now” has a similar theme. Those tracks along with “Help Me”, “Like the 309”, “Love’s Been Good to Me”, and “I Came to Believe” are the best Cash songs or Cash-reworked traditional songs. The rest of the album features some interesting covers “Further On Up the Road” (Springsteen), “On the Evening Train” (Hank Williams), and “If You Could Read My Mind” (Gordon Lightfoot).

Craig Craigstofferson – “A Final Blaze of Glory” (ItsAboutMusic). For the 5 people besides me who have been wondering what former Huffamoose lead singer Craig Elkins has been up to lately. Here it is. He moved from Fairmount to L.A., took the last Huffamoose drummer Tom Walling and a new bass player with him, got divorced, had another kid with another woman, and wrote the songs for this album. That feels like about 4 midlife crises occurring at the same time. These tracks are a little quirkier and eclectic than the typical Huffamoose album. And I thought the strength of Huffamoose was that the rest of the band provided the punch to go with Elkins’ quirky pop/folk/jazz songs. Still it was a fun album and a nice surprise comeback by Elkins.

The Drams – “Jubilee Dive” (New West). This is the band that formed from 60% of the members of Slobberbone, after they played their last show in 2004. It consists of singer/guitarist Brent Best, guitarist Jess Barr, and drummer Tony Harper from Slobberbone with a new bassist and keyboardist. Best had invited a cast of Dallas musicians to his home to try out some new ideas and the Drams formed out of this collection of players. This band seems more like an alt/pop band, moving away from Slobberbone’s alt/country/rock sound. So at various moments they sound like early Wilco or Bob Dylan or even the Black Crowes on a blues ballad called “Holy Moses”, and much less like, well, Slobberbone. “Truth Lies Low”, “Hummalong”, “Fireflies”, “You Won’t Forget”, “You Won’t Forget” (which sounds very close to Wilco’s “When You Wake Up Feelin’ Old”), “Shortsighted”, and “Make a Book.” Overall, this was a pretty good debut album. It seems that Brent Best may be trying to take the same path as Jeff Tweedy – with Slobberbone his Uncle Tupelo and the Drams potentially his Wilco.

Tim Easton – “Illumination” (New West). This was another record that I had high hopes for that let me down. It’s definitely the weakest of Easton’s last 3 releases. 2001’s The Truth About Us was good and 2003’s Break Your Mother’s Heart was even better. His 2001 release was a joint venture with 75% of Wilco. And his 2003 release was a collaboration with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell. On the current album, he actually gets help from members of the Jayhawks and Lucinda Williams. But this album seems much more folky than poppy, so that will turn off some of the fans who appreciated his pop/rock sensibilities on the previous two albums. Think more of the Bruce Springsteen of Devils and Dust, rather than Bruce Springsteen of Darkness on the Edge of Town.

There is hardly anything on here that’s as catchy as most of those other two albums. “Oh People”, “Not Today”, “Dear Old Song and Dance”, and “Back to the Pain” (with great backing vocals by Lucinda) are the best tracks. “News Blackout” is a fair to middling social commentary on media coverage of the war. And sonically it sounds like something from late 60’s era Bob Dylan in his folk-blues period. “C-Dub” sounds similar. And “J.P.M.F.Y.F.” scores some bonus points for creativity. It stands for Jesus Protect Me From Your Followers – a snide, sarcastic take on the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) crowd. It’s very sparse and somber though with just Easton and an acoustic guitar. This album has grown on me in recent months, but I’d still call it a disappointment.

Golden Smog – “Another Fine Day” (Lost Highway). This was a mild disappointment. I was expecting bigger things from the first Golden Smog album in 8 years. Christ, has it been that long? This alt/country supergroup consists of Gary Louris and Marc Perleman from the Jayhawks, Dan Murphy from Soul Asylum, Jody Stephens from Big Star, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco, and Kraig Johnson from Run Westy Run and the last few Jayhawks albums. Tweedy contributes much less on this album, since now he’s kind of a busier guy than he was 8 years ago. He still has that Wilco thing, you may have heard of. And he also has other side projects like Loose Fur and the Minus 5 (see other items on the list). Tweedy only wrote 2 of the songs (both co-written with Louris) and sang lead vocals on only 3 songs. The result is an album that sounds more like a more cohesive album with a true band with less guest appearances and fewer songwriter combinations, which made their previous albums sound like soundtrack albums. It was pretty good in a twangy 60’s pop/rock kind of way. The album itself flows better than the previous ones, but there are less standout songs on this one. In one review I read, it was correctly pointed out that this album doesn’t sound as much like the previous Golden Smog album in large part because hardly any of the artists’ other bands still sound much like they did 8+ years ago. Down by the Old Mainstream and Weird Tales are still better though. “Long Time Ago”, “Another Fine Day”, and “Never Felt Before” are very good. “Corvette”, “Cure For This”, and the cover of the Kinks’ “Strangers” are pretty solid too. The rest is only so so.

JET – “Shine On” (Atlantic/WEA). I was a huge JET fan early on. Months before their last CD came out, I was all over them. I loved their rocking songs and their Zeppelin and Floyd influenced ballads, which all tend to sound like Oasis when they do them. But I really had no interest in this CD at all. The main reason I picked it up is because I was thinking about going to the show at the TLA in late November. But there’s nothing on this CD that really grabs me. It’s probably an OK album, but I just haven’t had much interest in it. The songs just seem to fall flat here. “Rip It Up” is a pretty good rocker. “Hey Kids” and “Skin and Bones are good mid-tempo tracks. And “Come on Come On”, “Shiny Magazine”, and “Shine On” were pretty good ballads too. But so many of the other songs on here are almost cringe-inducing rock cliches or they seem so familiar that they it feels like a bar band doing AC/DC or Oasis covers. And Nic Cester’s voice at times reminds me of that guy from Jellyfish who sang on the first Slash’s Snakepit album. It was fair, but it’s not something I’m dying to hear regularly.

Tommy Keene – “Crashing the Ether” (Eleven Thirty). I first discovered Keene a few years back when a lot of Westerberg fans kept recommending his solo work. I knew he had played guitar in Westerberg’s touring band in 1996, but that was about it. Then I went back and discovered Songs From the Film, probably his best album from the mid 80’s. And it is also one of the most aptly named albums to sum up an artist’s music. In my view, Keene’s great guitar-driven power pop songs always felt like music on soundtracks to the “feel good hit of the summer” kind of movies. 1998’s Isolation Party had just come out around then, so I took a liking to that as well. He returned in 2002 with The Merry Go-Round Broke Down. It was solid, but a little too long with some filler, including one monstrous 16+ minute track in the middle of the album. Crashing the Ether is leaner and meaner. He still crafts some great Big Star-esque pop/rock songs, but ultimately there’s not much new here and he seems to be repeating himself a little bit. Starting on the last album it seems like Keene’s guitar work stands out more than it did previously. There are a lot more solos and the music seems to involve heavier guitars. The best tracks are “Black & White New York”, “Warren in the 60’s”, “Wishing”, “Eyes of Youth”, “Alta Loma”, and “Texas Tower #4.” Overall, it was decent, but it can’t touch his older stuff.

The Killers – “Sam’s Town“ (Island). I was just starting to sour on the Killers when this album came out, so I really didn’t give it that much of a chance. I thought their debut album Hot Fuss was really good, but figured there’d be nowhere to go but down on this one. The title comes from a name of a small, sleazy casino in Las Vegas, miles away from the strip.

Their sound was always close to what other similar bands were doing (Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, The Bravery) with the same influences (The Cure, The Smiths, The New Order, Duran Duran). The difference was that the Killers were fortunate to have some bigger hit singles that helped them sell over 5 million copies of their debut album. They sounded much more like the New Order, Cure, and Smiths on their debut album, but on the latter they sounded much more like they were aiming for a U2 sound, with synthesizers and keyboards playing the role of the Edge’s guitar. And you can hear the Oasis and Duran Duran influences also. And I heard one reviewer even mention Queen and Bowie as influences and I can hear that on here – especially Queen on “Why Do I Keep Counting?” But as the same reviewer noted it may be shallow and silly and unoriginal, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. I can see his point, but I disagree. I also read about some supposed Springsteen influences on this album (as it appears the young singer/songwriter Brandon Flowers has inexplicably just discovered the Boss’s 1970’s work), but I don’t hear much of it. The album is not without some high points. The first 2 singles – “When You Were Young” and “Bones” are catchy. And the title track, “Bling (Confessions of a King)”, and “The River Is Wild” are decent. But overall, it was a major disappointment though.

They were already starting to morph into what seemed like a record exec’s idea of what a hip alt/rock band should be like in 2006. I guess it’s just hard to shake the idea that they hail from Las Vegas – a place not exactly known for its art. They recorded this album in the Palm’s Hotel and Casino, for chrissakes. Vegas is a lot of things to a lot of people, but being authentic isn’t one of them. It’s a fake city built in the middle of nowhere, with nothing really original about it except the idea of itself. (when people refer to Dubai as the emerging Vegas of the Arab world, that’s not a compliment). But there’s nothing really below the surface and unfortunately it seems like that is exactly the kind of band that has emerged from these surroundings.

Monsters Are Waiting – “Fascination” (Retone). I stumbled onto this album after reading a good review somewhere….I can’t remember where. They kind of remind me more of the hopes I had projected onto the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They are sort of a more melodic version of the YYY’s with some obvious Cure and New Order influences, but more straight up rock overall. It’s sort of like 80’s New Wave meets 60’s rock. There also a lot of riffs that wouldn’t feel out of place on a U2 record. The voice of lead singer, Annalee Fery, actually reminds me a lot more of Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles, though. It’s a good listen all the way through. “Last Goodbye”, “Fascination”, “Nobody”, “Ha Ha”, and “Monsters” are the best tracks.

Tim O’Reagan – “Tim O’Reagan” (Lost Highway). Tim O’Reagan was the drummer for the Jayhawks. And in recent years, he also played some guitar and wrote many songs for the band. So he already seemed to possess the skills to make a good solo record. Unfortunately, this CD doesn’t really break any new ground. And with guest appearances by former Jayhawks Gary Louris, Marc Perleman, and Mark Olson, along with Jim Boquist, the former Son Volt bassist (and touring bass player for Paul Westerberg in recent years), it’s not hard to see why. Not surprisingly, it sounds like a slower, softer Jayhawks album. O’Reagan’s released another album before called Topeka Oratorio in a band called the Leatherwoods. And that was always an obscure favorite of mine. This came out in 1992, 4 years before he joined the Jayhawks. That album was notable because 3 of the tracks were written by fellow Minneapolitan Paul Westerberg under the nom de plume Pablo Louserama. This first solo effort was a pretty good album. Inspite of the alt/country reputation, this album leans a bit more on his pop/rock influences. “These Things”, “Highway Flowers”, and “River Bends”, and “That’s the Game” are as strong as anything the Jayhawks have released in recent years.

Bruce Springsteen – “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” (Columbia). It’s tough to evaluate a covers album, especially when you don’t really know the original songs that well, as they are mostly traditional folk songs. And it’s even tougher to evaluate it when it’s someone like Springsteen, when you know that over the years he has shelved albums worth of quality material. The natural urge is to want to hear some Bruce originals instead of a covers album. I haven’t listened to this album too often, but it flowed well together and was actually a pretty fun listen. Reportedly, these songs were recorded live with no rehearsals with a group of musicians Bruce threw together at the last minute. And that adds to the looser feeling and flow of the album. In that way there is sense of danger and excitement there on this record that is usually absent on most meticulously-recorded Springsteen albums. Some mistakes were left in and you can hear the count-offs and chord changes announced on some songs. The standout tracks are “Pay Me My Money Down”, “O Mary Don’t You Weep”, “John Henry”, “My Oklahoma Home”, and “Old Dan Tucker.”

Paul Stanley – “Live To Win“ (Universal/New Door). Whenever someone like Paul Stanley decides to release a solo album at this point in their career, the biggest question on my mind is: why? I kind of wonder the same thing about an artist like Rhett Miller too, especially considering live shows with Rhett Miller and his band vs the Old 97’s are nearly identical, except for the handful more Miller solo songs in the set replacing those songs that would normally be sung by Murray Hammond. But anyway, Stanley has been one of the two main contributing songwriters to the entity known as Kiss for the last 30+ years. He surely doesn’t need to go solo to scratch any creative itches. The only thing I can think of is the corporation of Kiss Inc. wasn’t ready to tour behind a new album at this time. So any new material that the members wanted to release would have to go in a solo or side project. So he got together and with Desmond Child and wrote some songs and recorded them with a bunch of different studio players, including ex-Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick, who actually played as an unknown session player on Stanley’s previous solo album way back in 1978. The results aren’t much different than Stanley’s ballad-y material from the last handful of Kiss albums. “Lift” and “Wake Up Screaming” are pretty good and definitely would be solid contributions to a good Kiss album. The rest is kind of run of the mill and some of it is painful. Think more “Bang Bang You” and “Shandi” rather than “Strutter” and “Love Gun.” I only recommend this for Kiss completists.

Thursday – “City By the Light Divided“ (Island). I thought Thursday’s last release, 2003’s War All the Time, was quietly one of the best of this decade so far. It was a great melodic mix of emo, screamo and hardcore full of political flavor. For me they, along with System of a Down, became the Rage Against the Machine of this generation. So I had high hopes for this follow-up. It was solid, but it just didn’t live up to my expecations. It doesn’t change much from that formula, but the songs just aren’t as good. “Counting 5-4-3-2-1”, “Running From the Rain”, “We Will Overcome”, and “Into the Blinding Light” are the best tracks on here. I think Thursday has an even better album in them than War All the Time. I just hope they get around to writing and recording it before too long.

Twilight Singers – “Powder Burns” (One Little Indian). Fans of the Afghan Whigs and their alterna-soul sound keep waiting for Greg Dulli to make another album which measures up to his work in that band. This is the closest he’s come yet in his 7-year post-Whigs career. I thought the Whigs’ sound could be boiled down to two songs they did early on – their rock cover of Freda Payne’s old Motown hit “Band of Gold” and an original called “The Rebirth of Cool.” Everything they did after that felt like it was built on what they did on those two songs. The only criticism I have with this album is it sounds too much like early Whigs stuff. The first 3 tracks “I’m Ready”, “There’s Been an Accident”, and “Bonnie Brae” would all fit well on early Whigs albums like Congregation or Gentlemen. “Forty Dollars” and “My Time (Has Come)” are also good and are a little rougher and rawer. Overall, it was a good record and probably Dulli’s best post-Whigs release to date. I heard a rumor that the Whigs may be reuniting and possibly touring in 2007 or 2008, as they recently collaborated on a few new songs for a Whigs’ compilation album due out this year. So in that context, this album seems appropriate.

Viva Death – “One Percent Panic” (Functional Equivalent Records). This is the 2nd release from the punk rock super group consisting of former guitarist/vocalist of Face to Face Trever Keith, former Face to Face bassist Scott Shifflet, current Foo Fighters guitarist and brother Chris Shifflet, drummer Josh Freese (# of bands and projects too numerous to mention), and guitarist Chad Blinman. Keith is more in the background on this one. He wrote and sung on about half of the songs on their first self-titled release in 2002. But on this record, he’s basically just the guitar player who sings on few songs, so it sounds much less like a typical Face to Face album than the previous release. Scott Shifflet wrote almost every song by himself on this outing. And he co-wrote 1 or 2 others with Keith. Most of the songs on here are just lacking everything compared to past efforts. “United By the Threat of a Common Enemy”, “Rise and Shine”, “Damage Control”, “Be Excited”, “Behind You, Soldier”, and “Into the Void” are all decent. But there are just too few good songs on here. Overall, it was an extremely disappointing album.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Show Your Bones” (Interscope). I really liked the YYY’s debut Fever to Tell. But this record seemed to fall flat. I’m not sure if they know exactly what they want to do here. On their first EP and debut album, they seemed like something in between the Breeders and the Pretenders - pop/punk with good melodies and catchy choruses. Very litte of that is found on Show Your Bones. “Way Out”, the lead single, comes about as close to that sound as anything on the record. “Honeybear” and “Cheated Hearts” are close approximations too. Overall, there were just too few of these moments.

Neil Young – “Living With War” (Reprise). Neil Young rushed to release this album so it would be relevant, since it was a topical subject (even though we’ve been “living with war” for 4 years now). And I think it suffered from that. Reportedly, he recorded these tracks in only a few days. I actually preferred Young’s ’05 release Prairie Wind to this one, at least as far as the music and melodies go. It still takes some cojones to release an album with this title with a track titled “Impeach the President” in 2006. But it might have been more useful politically had he released this in ’03 or ’04. It has its moments like with the title track, “Impeach the President”, “After the Garden”, and “Shock and Awe.” But this is one of those records that I guarantee won’t age well. It’s tough to imagine Young ever playing anything off this album live ever again. It kind of feels like a few blog entries put to music.

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