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TransatlanticThe Whirlwind
Artist:
Transatlantic
Album:
The Whirlwind
Genre:
Progressive Rock
Bottom
Line:

The super-group reunites for more ‘70s-tinged prog!

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 2.5
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 3.25

A progressive rock super-group? You bet! Transatlantic is comprised of Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy (drums), Marillion’s Pete Trewavas (bass), Roine Stolt (guitars, vocals) from The Flower Kings, and Neal Morse (lead vocals, keys) of Spock’s Beard (and a busy solo career). It’s been eight years since their last studio album — Neal took a departure from the mainstream rock world (yes, to us prog rock seems mainstream enough) to focus on giving Christian rock a healthy infusion of virtuoso musicianship.

This two-disc set will appeal to any fans of ‘70s progressive rock — it’s a melding of styles that evoke everything from Frank Zappa to Supertramp to The Alan Parsons Project to The Beatles to The Moody Blues and more. But mostly, it sounds to us like another Spock’s Beard album — more so than any of Neal Morse’s solo work.

As expected, the musicianship and production values are fantastic.

Favorite tracks include “A Man Can Feel” with great vocal harmonies, “Evermore” with some grooving rhythms, and the epic ballad, “Dancing With Eternal Glory” that channels some Marillion Steve Hogarth-style melody lines through Stolt while Morse delves precariously into Christian rock territory with the lyrical content. But as enjoyable as the music is overall, the hooks just aren’t that memorable, and despite our enjoyment of the music in this collection, the songs just don’t stick in our brains much after we move on to other things.

The second (bonus) disc piles on almost another hour of music and is catchier than the first CD. Of course the second half of it features covers of some classic songs such “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” from Genesis, “I Need You” (The Beatles), and Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.”

— SK

 
Five for Fighting — Slice
Artist:
Five for Fighting
Album:
Slice
Genre:
Americana, AAA, Rock
Bottom
Line:

America’s last best hope for ‘70s influenced pop delivers another strong collection of songs.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars 3.38

We love John Ondrasik for so many reasons: he delivers the character of classic Billy Joel albums with the piano stylings and orchestration of vintage Elton John, then throws in the influence of classic singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and James Taylor. But it’s his vocal delivery that sets him apart from America’s bland radio landscape, singing with an earthy presence that deftly switches from sweet melody to spoken word to falsetto, and it is that high register and spoken attitude that give him such a distinguished and instantly identifiable sound.

If you’re familiar with earlier Five for Fighting hits such as “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” and “100 Years,” you’ll be right at home with this collection of songs that builds upon a familiar base. The album opener and title track is classic Ondrasik fare — identifiable piano hook, big orchestration, and lyrics that showcase his storytelling gift, tying together the past (“Chevy’s and levis played on the radio”) with the present (“Have you read my blog today?”) as he looks at slices of American life.

Another track we can’t get enough of is “Chances,” an up-tempo classic rock track. Our ears know great stuff when they hear it — it turns out these two tracks were mixed by Tom Lorde-Alge!

Although there are a ton of musicians involved with the making of this record (real orchestra, for example), the core band, including Jack Daley (bass), Greg Suran and Gerry Leonard (guitars), Shawn Pelton and Randy Cooke (drums) lay down studio perfect support for John’s piano, guitar, and vocals. John produced the majority of Slice, and he’s got an excellent grasp of what it takes to make this kind of music sound just right. (See our previous feature story with John here to learn more.)

Other standout tracks include “Note to the Unknown Soldier,” “Above the Timberline,” and “Love Can’t Change the Weather.” We had to smile when we first listened to “Story of Your Life.” It’s hard to imagine that a songwriter like John grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the ‘80s, but along came this track whose chord progression in the verse immediately reminded us of Poison’s “Fallen Angel.” Maybe on the next record John can slip us a little Ratt or Motley Crue tribute!

—SK

 
Simple Minds — Graffiti Soul
Artist:
Simple Minds
Album:
Graffiti Soul
Genre:
Modern Rock, Alternative Rock, Pop
Bottom
Line:

A welcome, but not perfect, album from Simple Minds.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 3.25

Graffiti Soul, the new album from Simple Minds, is quite an interesting listen. Having great moments, not so great moments, moments of innovation and inspiration, and moments of obvious nostalgia, it is likely to evoke a wide range of responses and reaction from listeners. We will say this though — it is, overall, a pleasurable listen, and certainly earns a place in our music collection.

For Graffiti Soul, long time guitarist Charlie Burchill and original drummer Mel Gaynor play alongside frontman Jim Kerr, and there are moments of greatness. While Simple Minds may have not reached the heights over the last fifteen years as they did during their ‘80s heyday, this album will remind you why you liked them in the first place.

The first track, “Moscow Underground,” has a dark underbelly, reminiscent at times of U2, particularly in its bass emphasis. A controlled song without being bombastic, it is quite effective in pulling the listener in. Kerr’s voice, always distinctive, works well and sounds right where it should be — easily one of the best tracks on the album.

In contrast, the next track and first single, “Rockets,” sounds a bit dated, with a chorus riff sounding very ‘80s. We would have preferred a different acoustic treatment to this tune as there’s no need to look back when the band has continued to evolve.

The third track, “Stars Will Lead the Way,” brings another flavor to the table, and it’s arguably (among our editors) one of the best songs Simple Minds have ever penned. While not as dark as “Moscow Underground,” there are catchy stadium rock riffs that bring us back to the outstanding Good News From the Next World. Overall, though, the vibe of this CD reminds us a lot of classics such as New Gold Dream and Sparkle In The Rain, but with modern production values.

While Kerr’s voice is distinctive, and at times great, there are a number of moments he sounds like singing in the upper range is getting to be a struggle. A little grittiness isn’t a bad thing, but there are moments where it sounds more like a struggle than artistic.

Overall, the album is certainly one of their best in recent years. It is great to see the veteran group still putting out solid albums after nearly thirty years — this is their sixteenth studio album! Unfortunately, there are times the album seems contrived and controlled, giving us the feeling of wishing there was a more energetic/spontaneous treatment to production. A little more punch here and there would have been welcomed.

The bonus track, a remake of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” is the last track on the album, and while a nice novelty, it doesn’t really help Simple Minds break any new ground, though you can tell Kerr is really trying to channel Young!

— JB

 
Marillion — Less is More
Artist:
Marillion
Album:
Less is More
Genre:
Acoustic, folk rock, AAA
Bottom
Line:

Dinner party music even your parents will enjoy.

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 3.13

Less is More is a collection of Steve Hogarth-era Marillion tunes reworked as acoustic numbers with a variety of instruments: piano, upright bass, acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, hammered dulcimer, autoharp, and more. Rather than featuring extended progressive rock arrangements, the songs (where applicable) have been cut down in length to deliver more traditional singer/songwriter performances that even your mother will love.

In fact, your mother may love this collection of songs more than a true Marillion fan, as it’s really a hit-or-miss collection that ignores some popular song considerations in favor of some songs that were transformed from average to plain boring. The collection of songs is mostly quite mellow — you can put your little kids to sleep with it, or play it in the background at a dinner party.

Starting with the brilliant stuff: we loved the remakes of “Go,” “Hard as Love,” and “If My Heart Were a Ball It Would Roll Uphill” in which Pete Trewavas delivers a kick-ass bass groove. “Canibal Surf Babe” also received fantastic treatment in its acoustic reinterpretation — again with Pete laying down crazy grooves while Ian Mosley uses brushes or wooden tala wands/hot rods here (as well as throughout the album).

Mark Kelly plays his fingers out on acoustic piano throughout the album (plus a whole bunch of those orchestral instruments), while Steve Rothery lays down plenty of acoustic guitar. We especially liked the live acoustic version of “Runaway” and Rothery’s classical finger styling on “Memories of Water.”

But what was the other Steve thinking with “It’s Not Your Fault?” It is his fault that this sleeper of a song is just a little too whiny. He sounds like he’s lost his mind with that repeated chorus, but then maybe that’s the whole point of the song. He redeems himself with the live cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” but we would have preferred that space be used by just one more up-tempo Marillion tune to give the collection just a little more drive.

— SK

 
The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing
Title:
The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing
Author:
Randall D. Wixen
Subject:
Music Publishing
Bottom
Line:

A must-read book for any independent artist or band.

Overall Rating: 4 Stars

Most people in the music industry — from artists to managers to record labels — have relied on one particular book as their industry bible: All You Need to Know About the Music Business, written by UCLA law professor (and entertainment lawyer) Donald Passman. We’ve owned numerous editions as it has been updated to reflect constant changes in this crazy industry. It’s one of those books every musician needs to own and read, even (or especially) if other people handle your business affairs.

Now in its second edition, we’ve been given a new gift from the entertainment industry gods: Randall D. Wixen’s essential The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing. This concise and easy-to-read book really does explain the horrifyingly complex world of music publishing in a way that musicians will be very comfortable with. In fact, it’s an easier read than the Passman book (which doesn’t attempt to tackle this subject matter in detail).

The Guide covers everything about publishing from the ground up: understanding the basics of what publishing means to you and your music (whether you’re in a rock band or a contracted songwriter); types of publishing deals; various licenses for use of your music in everything from radio to health-clubs to video games, world-wide use of your songs; copyright basics; performing rights societies; and more. There are some great illustrations that make it very easy to understand how your royalties get split between you, publishing companies, co-writers, sub-publishers, etc.

We also appreciated the do-it-yourself section, which helps explain which things a band on a starving-artist budget can do for itself and what things should be handed off to a lawyer. Really, if you’re in a band in the USA, you need to understand at least some of the publishing basics, and this book will give you that info up front with further details in the supporting chapters.

Since publishing rights, rules, and financial rewards are different in every country, this book will be of limited value to our overseas audience. But everyone should read “The Value of Music” at MusicPlayers.com — we thought this chapter was so important that we obtained rights to reprint it as a guest editorial in its entirety!

And if we haven’t made it clear just how useful this book is, we have partnered with its publisher, Hal Leonard, to offer MusicPlayers.com readers a 25% discount on the purchase of this book as well as numerous other titles of interest to our serious musician audience. Follow this link or click one of the Hal Leonard banner ads on our site to reach the special book discount page.

— SK
 
Lady Gaga The Fame Monster
Artist:
Lady Gaga
Album:
The Fame Monster
Genre:
Pop
Bottom
Line:

We’re “gaga” for Gaga!

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 3.22

Pop music is at times juvenile, simplistic, and artificial — which is why we love it, of course! Many of our readers are pro players and producers creating these works of art. So if you're looking for an example of what we consider “good pop,” you'll probably go gaga over Lady Gaga just as we have. Consider this young New Yorker the second coming of Madonna, despite the fact that the senior pop master is still with us.

Gaga’s sophomore album, The Fame Monster, is a short and concise (but poignant) second punch to her first, released only one year after The Fame (which is commonly sold bundled with the new release).

Down to the nitty-gritty, after listening to this album for about two weeks straight (obsessed, much?) I still discover new layers within the music and small intricate riffs each time I listen. One great aspect of Gaga’s music is that upon first listen, when you expect the music to go in one direction, it goes in a completely different direction that seems to make perfect sense by the end of the song.

Although the songs styles are far from unique, it is their obvious influences that endear them to us. “Alejandro” sounds a lot like Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” while the bass and drums in “Teeth” immediately made some of our staffers think of KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” “Bad Romance” could have been a hit for Cher save for the splash of Vogue-era Madge thrown in. And the guitar work on the fantastic ‘70s inspired ballad, “Speechless” could have been lifted from a Beatles record.

What sets Lady Gaga apart from many pop singers is that she plays an integral part in the direction of her music. She is not just a pretty (and sometimes bizarre) face representing a group of people who create the music for her. Lady Gaga, who attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, co-produced the tracks (mostly with producer-songwriter RedOne), helped with vocal arrangements, and even (gasp) played instruments on some of them. It is precisely because Gaga’s an actual musician that her CD was worthy of our attention.

RedOne played and programmed most of the electronic tracks, but Gaga played piano on the most serious track in the collection, “Speechless,” a rock ballad played on real instruments (as opposed to electronic). The tracks as a whole are catchy, diverse, and extremely well produced. Lyrically, the concepts are all hers, with topics ranging from abusive relationships to partying to S&M.

Gaga’s melodic yet powerful voice, sometimes paired with robotic harmonies and static-y synthesizer, makes the very danceable music very endearing without a horrible over-abuse of AutoTune. Fame Monster has the pop star fanaticism of an early Britney Spears album mixed with the timelessness of classic Madonna — not a bad combination!

—MT

 
Louder Than Love Dark Days
Artist:
Louder Than Love
Album:
Dark Days
Genre:
Rock, Experimental, Goth
Bottom
Line:

Yes, they are louder than love.

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.63

Louder than Love is a Vancouver-based rock band that ventures into a few different genres, creating an overall dark feel musically and lyrically. Some tracks on this album, such as “Hey You” and “Never Going Back” sound rough, like Audioslave or Alice in Chains. The melodic vocals on the tracks are quite lovely to listen to, and slightly reminiscent of Adam Pascal.

The band, which consists of Paul Lambert on lead guitar and vocals, his brother Tony Lambert on bass, Tyler Thompson on drums, Dano Okano on keyboards, and Ras Contractor on rhythm guitar, works together as a whole to explore a variety of sounds. The majority of songs are catchy, distinct, and musically intricate. The lyrics are haunting and Tony Lambert’s bass murmurs under the interesting electric guitar riffs. The bass really stands out, although not overpowering, and the parts work well with the music. The band also makes interesting use of mallet percussion and keyboards.

Although each song has a slightly different sound, it is tied to the rest by the album’s dark tone, which is foreshadowed nicely by its title and first track, “Dark Days.” The half-time chorus filled with complicated guitar riffs on this track starts off the eerie listening voyage.

The mysterious siren-like female voice on “Bringing You In” compliments the lyrics well, and the wailing guitar mimics this voice nicely. The chorus of “That Ghost” has a Pink Floyd feel — smooth and eerie with a chord progression of muted guitar and booming bass falling and then starting over at the top.

“Rain,” the final track on the album, is a melancholy classical guitar ballad. Although the lyrics of “Flood the Gates” are simplistic and a bit cliché, they complement the big drums and wailing guitar. The only track on this album that seemed uninspired was “Chemical Love,” coming across like a filler song, and lacking the charisma of the rest of the album.

— MT

 

 

 

   
           
             
             
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