She Met Wallace & Gromit

I had a chance to talk with singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading recently.  And, while we talked a lot about her music, her new CD and tour, we also touched on something a little off the beaten path: she had a chance to meet Nick Park, the creator of the claymation characters Wallace and Gromit. Park let her tour the studio and actually hold the famous duo in her hands.  Check out more about Joan Armatrading in our interview.

Classic Album – Marshall Crenshaw – debut (CD review)

Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw (review) – CD review

Want a little sunshine in your Ipod?  Marshall Crenshaw’s debut CD is full of simple, yet infectious pop tunes.  Both his voice and chord progressions are reminiscent of Buddy Holly’s best work.  Jangly guitars and soaring harmonies are everywhere.  What makes this such a joy is the lack of any image or attitude.

Most bands attempting something like this would hide behind a cool sneer or haircut (like Elvis Costello or Graham Parker, perhaps), while Crenshaw is content to play it straight in all it’s geeky charm.  The album’s best known track, “Someday Someway,” borrows some from Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” while “Mary Anne” has the same simplicity of “Sweet Jane.”    The album’s lone cover song, Arthur Alexander’s “Soldier of Love,” sounds right at home with all the other vintage-sounding tunes.

The production is also very clean and sparse, without any keyboards or electronic instruments, letting the songs stand on their own.  Be sure to hunt out the “deluxe edition,” featuring several bonus tracks, including the excellent b-side “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.”  His followup, Field Day, would be full of bombastic drums and layered instruments, but Marshall Crenshaw’s debut still sounds as fresh as the day it came out.  Guaranteed to get you humming along. –Tony Peters

Jimmie Vaughan – Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites (CD review)

Jimmie Vaughan – Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites (Shout Factory) – CD review –

Jimmie Vaughan has recorded sporadically since he left the Fabulous Thunderbirds two decades ago; Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites is only his fourth solo album, and his first since 2001.  Vaughan has assembled a collection of his favorite tunes, and recorded them in a loose, live-in-the-studio environment.

It truly sounds like someone held up a single microphone in front of the band and they went to work.  Most of the album moves along at a pleasant simmer, never really cooking hot, but always bringing some heat.  Sax, trumpet, organ and harmonica mix in with the usual instruments to keep things interesting. The best tracks feature vocalist Lou Ann Barton dueting with Vaughan on songs like “I Miss You So.”  Vaughan’s guitar playing is relaxed, with his signature clean tone still intact.  Most of his solos aren’t flashy, but that’s the point; Vaughan is strolling down memory lane and we’ve been lucky enough to come along. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Asia – debut (CD review)

Asia – Asia (1982) – CD review –

The progressive rock movement peaked in the early 1970’s, with albums like Fragile from Yes and the debut from Emerson Lake and Palmer.  As the Seventies wore on, people grew tired of the endless noodling and the movement stalled.  That’s what makes Asia such a surprise: four veterans of prog rock turning in a great pop record.

The key here is the delicate balance between virtuosity and melody; a classical guitar lick or keyboard flourish, a little drum fill, helps link the pieces of songs together, but unlike the old days, they get to the point much quicker (no song clocks in at over 6 minutes).  The secret weapon here is guitarist Steve Howe; his clever fretwork adds an element of excitement to these tracks.

“Heat of the Moment,” the album’s most famous track, starts with his guitar, then the band answers with a double thud.  “Only Time Will Tell,” begins with keyboards, then a soaring guitar, but deep down it’s a great ballad.  The only dull moments are the bland “One Step Closer,” and the piano coda to “Cutting it Fine.”  One of the strangest success stories of the early eighties. –Tony Peters

#19 – Joan Armatrading – This Charming Life

Joan Armatrading

British songwriter Joan Armatrading has been blazing her own musical trail for almost 40 years.  She’s been nominated for three Grammy’s and two BRIT awards.  She’s also one of the very few artists who’ve never done a cover song; she’s only ever performed music that she’s written herself.  Her brand new release, This Charming Life, is a collection of melodic songs with a rock edge to them.  The album finds her playing almost all the instruments herself.  Icon Fetch talked to Armatrading while she was on the way to a recent gig about her new CD and getting the chance to meet Wallace and Gromit.  Click below for the Joan Armatrading interview.

Ray Luzier of Korn

I interview Korn’s newest member, Ray Luzier, Weds night on Icon Fetch.  He’s had a pretty interesting career.  He was a part of David Lee Roth’s band for almost ten years.  He was also in the alternative supergroup Army of Anyone with the DeLeo brothers of Stone Temple Pilots.  Now his monster drumming can be heard on Korn’s brand new album, Korn III: Remember Who You Are. Luzier talks about the unique way the band approached recording the new disc, plus what it’s like playing in such a high energy band.  He also tells us what it was like growing up on a farm near Pittsburgh.

Concert Review – Kiss – Riverbend – 7/30

Kiss hasn’t done a great deal of touring over the last decade.  Instead, they’ve spent more time on other ventures, like the Kiss Kasket, Kiss Coffeehouse and Gene Simmons’ reality show Family Jewels.  They still bill themselves as the “Hottest Band in the World,” but with the founding members getting up there in age (Gene Simmons is nearing 61 and Paul Stanley is 58), there was some doubt that they could still deliver the goods.  The show opened with an ear-splitting explosion, followed by “Modern Day Delilah,” one of three new songs they played that night.  Right away, you could feel the energy coming off the stage

, and any doubt was soon gone.  Through an amazing 22-song set, lasting almost 2 ½ hours, Kiss showed that they could still put on a balls out spectacle.  All the elements of a classic Kiss show were present:  they arrived on an elevated pedestal that lowered the band to the stage, Simmons breathed fire and spit blood, Stanley smashed his guitar, and at one point rode a guywire to the middle of the audience and played on a small stage.  Kiss also seemed more like a band than they have in a long time.  Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer, the permanent replacements for Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss, respectively, seemed no more than hired guns on previous tours.  Here, they were not only recognized, but were also given their own spotlights; Thayer sang Ace’s “Shock Me,” while Singer did Peter’s ballad “Beth.”  The band touched on every album from their debut to 1979’s Dynasty, with the discofied “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.”  Not surprisingly, their first record got the most notice, with five songs played.  One difference in this tour is the acknowledgement of the non-makeup years, with songs like “Lick it Up,” “God Gave Rock n’ Roll to You” and, most surprisingly, “Crazy Crazy Nights.”  Yes, they played standards like “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout it Out Loud,” and “Rock n’ Roll All Nite.”  The fact is, most bands of their age are getting by with playing slightly over an hour each night, while Kiss played for double that.  Stanley’s voice did sound a little hoarse, yet the band never had to do a song in another key just to fit his vocal range (something most older bands are doing).  Kiss has certainly merchandised themselves to death, and they’ve gone on without two of their original members, yet they proved that theirs is still the benchmark for all other bands wanting to put on a rock n’ roll spectacle.

Beatles – Stereo Remasters (CD review)

Beatles – Stereo remasters (Apple) – CD review

Over the last 20 years, the Beatles’ camp has done a great job of getting us to buy things that we really don’t need.  Take for example the Anthology series; a total of six CD’s were released over three volumes, when the best material could’ve easily fit on a single disc.  Or, how about the Yellow Submarine Songtrack?  Or Let It Be…Naked? – all released with great fanfare, and now collecting dust on CD shelves worldwide.

Now comes the remastered individual Beatles albums, something fans have been clamoring for for years.

Once again, the publicity machine lauded these as being “revolutionary, like hearing Beatles music for the first time.”  Truth is, after a great deal of side by side comparison, I can’t tell a significant difference between these and their 1987 originals.  And, I dare anyone with an audio system under $2,000 to do the same.  The reason these “sound so good,” as many reviewers have noted, is that they didn’t sound bad in the first place! Unlike discs by the Rolling Stones, the Doors and the Who, whose albums were rushed out on CD to meet public demand, and therefore sounded terrible, the Beatles catalog was one of the last to come out on compact disc because great care was taken in the mastering process.

In defense of the studio guys, there’s really not much that could be done with these, except for maybe using noise reduction and hiss elimination.  They were using the original album masters. To explain here, when a band is done adding all the instruments to a song, they “blend” them into a master tape.  The reason it’s called a master, is that this is what the song will sound like from now on.  All records, tapes, CDs, and mp3s will be made from it.  Imagine that you and three of your buddies sang into your Iphone.  You can’t bring up or lower one of your voices after you’ve recorded it, right? Same goes for this, which means you can’t bring up the vocals or lower the drums and guitars; that sort of thing requires the session tapes, which were not used in this series.  So, you basically get what you get here.

So, if the discs don’t sound any better, is there a reason to buy these?  Well, for one, each disc comes with a nice booklet filled with unreleased photos and an essay about the recording history of each LP.  Every album also contains a short mini documentary on the making of that record, something you’ll probably watch once and put away.  Each disc is housed in a paper sleeve that faithfully replicates the front and back of each original album.  While that might be a nice touch, they are done with paper material, which means you’ve got to be ultra-careful not to get these wet or dirty.  Also, the paper cases are poorly designed and sometimes scratch the discs while taking them in and out of the cases.

Another complaint with this series is that many of the discs, especially the early ones, barely clock in at 30 minutes, yet you pay the full price for every album.  There was plenty of room to put the complete stereo AND mono versions of each album, especially in the early ones.  Instead, for those interested in hearing the mono mixes, you’ll have to buy “The Mono Masters” box set, a pricey collection, that’s nonetheless worth every penny (see separate review).

In conclusion, it’s great that these Beatles albums are back in the public eye again.  With this remastering series, the entire Beatles catalog is again plentiful in every place that sells music around the country.  That’s indeed a good thing.  However, I do not enjoy being duped into buying something that is no better than what I already currently own. –Tony Peters

Interesting Article on the State of CDs

CNN published an interesting article on the state of the music industry.  You can read it here.  Of course, I’m an old school record guy, so I’d hate to see the CD phased out.  Although I download music, it’s just not the same as owning a physical copy of it, be it CD, record or whatever.  With a download, you rarely get the artwork either.

What do you think?

Marc Cohn – Listening Booth: 1970 (CD review)

Marc Cohn – Listening Booth: 1970 (Saguaro Road) – CD review

When an artist does an entire album of covers, it’s usually a sign that they’ve run out of ideas.  But when it’s done in such earnest, as is Listening Booth: 1970, you have to take notice.  Every big music fan has a particular time in their life when the world was exploding musically.  For me, it was 1978, with LP’s by ELO, Todd Rundgren, and the Cars.  For Marc Cohn, that time was 1970 and he’s put together an album of twelve tracks that were released that year.

Typically, when an artist does an album like this, they either stay faithful to the original or attempt to drastically reinvent each song.  Cohn actually does neither, instead he filters these songs through his own musical skin.  So, they’re not note for note copies, but they all manage to sound comfortable.  There’s no “oh sheesh” moment where you realize how he’s reworked something.  Take the opener, “Wild World,” originally done by Cat Stevens.  Here, he gives it a marching beat, which is a novel idea, yet it’s accompanied by acoustic instruments and great harmonies, as was the original.

The cheesy Bread number “Make it With You” sounds like an Al Green outtake, with it’s slinky guitar and Rhodes piano.   “After Midnight” is fairly faithful to the JJ Cale original, yet there’s room for a little lick from Clapton’s “Layla,” and some swamp guitar accents.  And, the Badfinger power pop classic, “No Matter What,” is slowed down and twanged up, with a guest vocal from Aimee Mann.  While all of this might seem blasphemous on paper, once you hear the tracks, you realize how much love and respect went into this project.  For once, a covers album that doesn’t make you want to go listen to the originals; instead you want to hit the repeat button. –Tony Peters

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