Sunday, November 23, 2014

Week 45

The Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot

Yes, yes I know. This one is old news. But actually, it's not. 

I remember when I bought this album years ago thinking, "these guys have a pretty unique sound." Of course I was into the singles "Meant to Live" and "Dare You to Move," but I liked just about every other one on this release too. Some killer writing to front surprisingly varied playing from the group.

Anyway, here's why I've been re-digging this album pretty hard lately:

I'm sure everyone remembers the hard rocker "Meant to Live," the first single and first track from this album. Very catchy guitar riffs, Bonham-esque drumming and a pretty inspirational message. Really a sum of the whole album if you ask me!

Next up is "This Is Your Life," a track that asks the listener to look inside. Even though Switchfoot is a band that crosses back and forth between Christian and non- music regularly, it's still unique to hear a group pose such a question to the listener. Most of the time we hear stuff that's about the singer or his/her loss. Not this time. The slow jam chorus is great for belting in the car... Just saying.

Number three is "More than Fine." This one that I didn't take to at first. Honestly, because of the cheesy 'timer going off' start and the 'thwappy' snare drum sample, I skipped this one several times just because of the intro. But... it gets better. The writing is honest and once again, inspirational. And truthfully, it's one we should all internalize. What' the point of living if you're not thriving?!

Following "More than Fine" is "Ammunition," one of my favorites. The funkified intro groove on kit is enough to pique my interest. But then we get thrown into a full-blown rock anthem. Has a distincting Pearl Jam/Stone Temple sound to these ears that basically calls us out. 

(We've been blowing up) We're the issue, it's our condition.
(We've been blowing up) We're the issue, the detonation.
(We've been blowing up) We're the issue, we're ammunition.

Presumably for our own problems. Accountability people! Don't love unless you mean to!

Next up is the album's rock ballad and second single "Dare You to Move." This one is a beautiful song that challenges the listener to well, move. You can live complacently, slowly drowning in your problems or you can reach up to something higher and never look back. While it is a little repetitive, it's still a great song that shows how much these guys are invested in their message.

"Redemption" is an interesting tune from the two sides it portrays. One is the argument for letting go of your fears to well, redeem yourself. The second is the inner self being overwhelmed by the scars of our decisions. Which do you focus on more? 

Following "Redemption" is the title track. An almost ambient intro with funky bass intro over some Gorillaz-esque sampling eventually leads to some post-pop riffing and grooving that's pretty tasty. Once again, Mr. Foreman delivers a fantastic way to put the following message: this material, ephemeral, limited world is not what we were truly made for. Probably my favorite track on the album. Killer playing, great layering, and may favorite song-writing out of 11 really well-written tracks. PS. Watch out for that bridge. It's a hidden gem.

"Gone" is next. I think of this as the albums cheeky, pop hit that would make fans of Ed Sheeran, Train, or Spin Doctors happy. Lots of little one-liners that come together to make a message that we all need to remember. Check it.

Three from the end, we get the true ballad, "On Fire." Sultry piano, mellow backgrounds, and soulful singing. This one could easily be the love child of Bebo Norman and Coldplay. That's not to belittle the content though. My very good friend Kella makes a point that illustrates this one quite well. Most people feel Him when they're close, but you have to open yourself up to recognize. 

Penultimate track is called "Adding to the Noise." It has the same flavor as "Gone" but rocks a little harder. Once again we're reminded that things of this place aren't the ones we need to focus one. Good stuff.

Rounding out the album is a song called "Twenty-Four." The title comes from the song's inspiration: Jon Foreman's twenty four years of living. Certainly is an honest song about how our experiences will follow us always. Eventually we have to quit making excuses or regretting things in order to get to a real truth. Not a huge fan of the sound of this track, but I do support the message!

If you couldn't tell, "The Beautiful Letdown" is an album I've listened to a lot. It's incredibly well done, with excellent songwriting, tight and groovy playing, and enough variety to keep any and all Christian/alt/pop/grunge rockers pretty satisfied. Give it a listen if you haven't already!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Week 44

New Music!

The Side Steps Quintet

Scott Amendola Band

Rolling Jazz Revue

John Newman

Check 'em out!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Week 43

Brass Band by Benny Greb

Once again, it is time to get down!

Benny Greb is a well-known funk inspired drummer from Austria. On this record, he teams up with a trio of brass musicians to put out some of the funkiest traditional brass band funk you've ever laid ears on.

This album is unique in the fact that the texture is the same on every track, yet every one has its own unique flavor. From the get go, we get a very '70s true funk number called "Good Question." This one has Sly or James written all over it. 

After the more contemporary brass band-ish "Icestattin," we get a very Galactic "Detective." This tune is funky but very lyrical at the same time. Even though the tempo is very lazy, the track gives a lot of room for all involved to demonstrate not only different knowledge of style but also several opportunities to improvise. The same goes for the smooth jazzified "Next Question." This is also the only track that gives Benny a true drum solo.

Other standouts include "Polka," which sounds like it'd be just as appropriate on the opening number for a Hanna Barbara cartoon. There's also the gospel-infused "Sweetbelt," which really gives the horn players a chance to go to town over a quick swing before opening up some space for Professor Greb to dig in. Very cool tune this one.

The last song on this record, entitled "Good Night," is the only true ballad and well, it's quite nice. Slow, sultry, and yet still funky, this is one of my favorites that reveals a lot of nuance and sensitivity on the part of the players. Very cool.

If you dig on some Soul Rebels or MMW and you're looking for something a little different, look no further. Mr. Greb to the rescue. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 42

3 Brave Souls by John Beasley

This trio is one comprised of Miles Davis alums and it shows! Keyboardist John Beasley heads the group, but his contributions certainly aren't outshining those of Darryl Jones and Ndugu.

My favorites are the the gospel ballad "Come and Gone," the exotic "Ayala" featuring Bob Sheppard and Steve Taglavione, and "Nothing Left to Say," featuring Sy Smith laying down some sultry vocals. 

Check out a few for yourself.

This album is certainly funky more than straight ahead jazz, but there are plenty of influences to be found here. The Meters, Miles Davis, Donny Hathaway, and James Brown are all some that come to mind and there are many more to be sure. 3 Brave Souls has become one of my recent favorites from this genre and you'd have a hard time convincing me that anyone who listens to it won't be tapping their foot in a matter of seconds. Give it a listen people!

Week 41

Heather Maloney by Heather Maloney

Since my iTunes library is several weeks long, I rarely use Pandora or Spotify to shuffle through new music. However, every once in a while, I'm exposed to something by sheer happenstance that catches my ear. Enter: Heather Maloney.

Heather is a singer/songwriter with a unique sound. How's that for bland? But seriously, for someone who listens to 3-4 hours of music a day, hearing an artist who really catches my ear is rare. 

This is Heather's second album and well, I dig it. 

To me, what's special about this album is the approach that Heather takes. Instead of a bunch of songs that give her a chance to show off or get radio play, it reminds me of an instrumentalist's role: she let's the music come through her instead of the opposite. Very Bob Dylan. Check out some highlights, "Hey Broken," "Dirt and Stardust," and "Flutter." 

"Hey Broken," is probably my favorite tune from this album. It's got a hand-jive feel that has something reminiscent of Mumford and Sons or The Civil Wars. Thoughtful lyrics about knowing when to push against life and when to rest in a tasty package.

"Dirt and Stardust" is a more somber track about life's limited time. This one has Dylan written all over it if you ask me. Thoughtful, pensive, a little depressing, but overall... beautiful.

Here's "Flutter."

Heather is a force to be reckoned with. And although she may not wind up in the Top 40, she still has plenty of beauty to offer the world. Be sure to check out this album as well as the other two.