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Home > Reviews > What We're Watching and Listening To > September 2008

 
             
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Coldplay —Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
Artist:
Coldplay
Album:
Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends
Genre:
Alternative Rock
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Sometimes albums live up to the hype. This wasn’t one of those times, but it’s still pretty good.

We’ve decided that non-musicians shouldn’t be allowed to be music critics. To read fan magazines, you would have thought the new Coldplay album was a radical departure from their previous albums. But I think the only way you could make this band sound radically different would be for Chris Martin to step aside and let his wife Gwyneth handle the lead vocals!

From the opening of the CD, we loved it and hated it. “Life in Technicolor” had this fantastic blend of The Cure meets Simple Minds, and a few minutes of cool instrumental led to… nothing! It ended! Perhaps the finest musical moment on the CD was a long intro that didn’t evolve into a song. I would have thought these guys knew how to develop musical ideas. While some intros are cool intros, this was clearly the start of a song they just didn’t know how to finish. But what do I know? I’m just a critic at the moment.

The rest of the CD shows Coldplay in all their forms, which means sounding brilliant and sounding tired and boring depending on the track. “Cemeteries of London” could have been lifted from a Doves album, and “Lost!” was a standout that was dark and brooding, with Jonny Buckland’s Simple Minds-styled haunting guitar melodies. More of this, and songs like the intro track, would have created a dark and passionate album. In general, the moments we appreciated most on this CD were quite emulative of other European bands we’ve loved since the ‘80s.

“Viva La Vida” was about as up-tempo as Coldplay tends to get — they may have achieved 130 BPM on the click track for this tune, which had great string arrangements. But working with Brian Eno at the production helm of this CD may have kept them in their place rather than truly expand their vision. If we were Jonny, we’d be looking for a band that has greater interest in hearing guitars in the mix. This CD was perhaps more keyboard heavy than even a release from Keane (who don’t even list a guitar player on their albums), and while he shines here and there, his absence from the mix on multiple tracks was somewhat depressing to the guitar players on staff around here.

The CD moves along at a mellow pace overall, and it takes a few listens to draw you in. Sonically, it’s a great production, the lack of guitars notwithstanding, and vocalist Chris Martin’s piano playing is great. In general, it’s a great listening album, and there’s not a single song that we find weak. The problem is, there’s very little at the opposite of weak — just a lot of “pretty good” stuff. Overall, we enjoy listening to the album, but there’s nothing especially compelling to keep our interest.

— SK
 
Greg Howe — Sound Proof
Artist:
Greg Howe
Album:
Sound Proof
Genre:
Instrumental Rock / Jazz Fusion
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:
Diverse compositions featuring complex melodic guitar lines, wide harmonic jazz chord voicings, and a sense of humor!

Guitarist extraordinaire Greg Howe’s new solo album, Sound Proof, is sure to catch your attention combining a diverse range of guitar-driven compositions. His artistic flair and ability to twist and mold melodic heads and improvisations are an incredible display of his dexterity and ability to cross multiple musical genres.

A few of the tracks are actually introductory commentary preceding songs — answering machine recordings, taped phone conversations, etc., and they are hysterical!  We can only hope that some of these interludes aren’t real recordings of the things Greg has to deal with on a regular basis (like the agent who hears so many notes in Greg’s playing that it might give him a migraine headache).

Listening to the CD’s introduction, you would think you were being set up for a Techno/Rave setting. But to great relief, it transitioned into the track, “Emergency Exit,” which seems to go into a steady rock groove but then transitioned into some complex bebop lines over suspended chord voicings followed by melodic solo guitar lines, and then it went off into the stratosphere with some improvisational soloing layered with cool effects. The A.D.D. impaired listener may have trouble getting through this opening song, but hang in there!

“Emergency Exit” leaves you ready for something comforting and familiar. Greg brings you back with an artistic rendition of Rufus’s “Tell Me Something Good.” Don’t relax too much, though. After the head, you’ll be taken outside for another trip of dripping guitar solos showcasing some nice fusion lines.

“Reunion,” is a nice showcase of the excellent musicianship supporting Greg on this album. Keyboardist, David Cook; Bassist, Jon Reshard; and Drummer, Gianluca Palmieri really lay it down and create a solid foundation for the compositions. Throughout the album, each artist is showcased during certain points to demonstrate their exemplary talent. Weather doubling melodic lines, showcasing improvisation, or simply providing a steady, solid groove, these musicians are tight and top shelf.

“Side Note” dishes out an excellent display of some funky lines and rhythms ala Steve Morse before going into another blistering solo section. Clean, articulate and adventurous, this was one of my favorite selections.

The title track, “Sound Proof,” showcases some complex rhythms that really highlight each musician’s talent. The bass solo was phenomenal as well as the piano comping, complex drumming and of course Greg’s solo is off the hook – smokin’!

This album is quite entertaining, packing a lot of surprise and adventure. Greg, I didn’t experience a migraine and I not only listened to it once from beginning to end, but probably ten times so far. And we’re really curious about your stalker friend, the “Connoisseur of Tone.” Seems like he needs to visit MusicPlayers.com.

— DD
 
 
 
The Andy Timmons Band — Live Resolution
Artist:
The Andy Timmons Band
DVD:
Live Resolution
Genre:
Instrumental Rock
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:
The next best guitar player this side of Eric Johnson tears it up in a trio setting.

By now, you’ve probably heard Andy Timmons and his trio deliver their tasteful fusion of instrumental rock, blues, and jazz, and at long last, you can watch Andy display that technical prowess on the big screen. (Of course you can catch him up close and personal at the numerous Mesa/Boogie in-store clinics that he’s currently embarked on in the USA, too.)

Andy commands great tone and delivers each note with authority. This hour-long concert features Resolution in its entirety, performed superbly by Andy and his bandmates, bassist Mike Daane, and drummer Dan Wojciechowski. There are no backing tracks for anyone to hide behind. Just as the album was entirely a three-piece recording without overdubs, the concert is live, and meticulously executed. What’s really impressive is just how relaxed Timmons appears while delivering a sometimes-blistering volley of notes with technical precision, and half the time, he’s not even looking at his hands!

At times the video quality could have been better — it was obviously up-converted to high-definition, and there are occasions where some pixilation of the image occurred, but fortunately the audio never suffers.

The bonus materials on the DVD are sure to please Andy Timmons fans. If you’ve been trying to learn some of the guitar parts from Resolution, you’ll get a great look at his playing on some of the tracks with behind-the-scenes footage shot during the recording sessions. The concert intro from Steve Vai was nice, and we suspect that Andy didn’t leave it at the front of the actual concert video because he’s just too humble a player to show off praise from the likes of Vai.

Although he’s most often times compared with Eric Johnson for tone and style, this Texan has other influences that don’t appear in his obvious hero’s repertoire. This recovered hair band guitar hero toured the world as a member of gold-album selling Danger Danger in the late ‘80s, and he has played a wide range of styles for numerous artists ranging from Pink to Olivia Newton John, too, so you’ll find him throwing in surprising patterns and runs within the context of music that typically wouldn’t know anything outside of your common blues scale. To celebrate this live CD release, we’ve republished our 2006 Andy Timmons feature on the homepage. For those of you who haven’t come to appreciate this great talent yet, check him out.

— SK

 
The Wretch — When I Fall
Artist:
The Wretch
Album:
When I Fall
Genre:
Industrial
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Melody and hooks elevate this industrial fare above the noise.

Multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Michael Weeks knows how to manipulate noise and turn it into something beautiful. This sound designer and synth design consultant isn’t content to let any musical signal pass through the studio without some sort of mangling, and just as the sounds are tortured, so is the sad and mournful delivery of his vocals. But rather than yelling and screaming, he lets the music paint a mood, and he delivers smooth and mellow vocal performances more akin to Gary Numan than to Trent Reznor. Oh, and when he’s in a less melancholy mood, he’s also one of our esteemed keyboard editors!

Listening to When I Fall is akin to watching a movie soundtrack unfold. If there were a new Crow film, this music would be right at home. If you’re looking for a good cry, an emotional outpouring where you ask yourself “Why am I so troubled?” this album delivers. In fact, if you’re in the mood to hurt yourself, we strongly suggest not listening to this album as it might take you over the edge.

It’s hard to pick standout tracks — we were enthralled from start to finish (and we’re not even big Industrial fans), but songs like the opening “Elemental” and “Behind the Fire” seem the most satellite radio friendly, while “Darkest Circles” shows how you can make a great modern rock keyboard hook. Drum sounds were big, and the guitars were mangled superbly.

Some of the sounds may be a bit harsh for non-industrial-loving ears, but if you’re one of those casual fans who teeter on the edge of liking dark electronic music, this is a great album to suck you in. And if you’re a fan of goth, that’s just going to be icing on the proverbial cake.

— SK
 
Anj — When Grey Blushes
Artist:
Anj
Album:
When Grey Blushes
Genre:
Jazz
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Look out, Tori Amos. There’s another fine female vocalist with jazz piano chops on the loose!

Another magazine might reduce an Anj review to “she’s beautiful and sexy and has a mysterious, deep voice,” but that would be to completely overlook her outstanding piano and compositional skills. The horror!

When Grey Blushes is a great collection of songs written, performed, and sung by Anj Granieri, and accompanied by bassist Richard Kurtz, cellist Toni Pirollo, and drummer Grant Macavoy. With a style that straddles jazz and pop, comparisons to Tori Amos can’t help but be drawn, especially on the opening track, “Former Stranger.” And like Tori, Anj has soul in her voice and fire in her fingers.

Of course there’s also fire burning in her heart, as the CD is mostly a collection of songs born out of relationships: memories of the good ones, and the pain of the bad ones (plus a birthday tribute to her father, a musician who produced the CD with her). Lyrically she gets a little bit poetic at times — particularly in the writings throughout the CD, but the music is easily listenable and practically screams “dinner party.”

One of our favorite tracks was “Bright Winter,” which showcased some fine piano playing driving a Carly Simon-esque pop ballad, and “Blueprints,” a catchy song about the transition from adolescence to adulthood. But really, it’s hard to pick a particular favorite. The collection of songs is very cohesive, and with the acoustic instrumental lineup, there are no great varieties in the tones you hear from one track to the next. In some ways, the music speaks for itself without hiding behind elaborate production.

If Anj were only a pianist, we’d tell you to watch for big things to come from her, but she also writes solid adult contemporary music, and sings with a distinct style that ranges from a whisper to a shriek, so… I guess you’d really better watch out for big things from her!

— SK
 
   
             
             
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