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Blackwood Creek — Blackwood Creek
Winger Karma
Artist:
Blackwood Creek
Album:
Blackwood Creek
Genre:
Classic Rock, AOR
Bottom
Line:

Blackwood Creek takes you back to the Seventies in classic guitar style.

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

If you love classic rock from the ‘70s, open another web browser window and purchase this CD now. It’s filled with new classic rock that seems lifted right out of that era, and it has fantastic, catchy, rockin’ stuff.

Many people will be shocked to discover that Blackwood Creek is a side project recorded by bassist/vocalist Kip Winger, along with his brother Nate (drums) and their childhood music pal, guitarist/vocalist Peter Fletcher. Before you start forming opinions for one bias or another, note that this record sounds nothing like Winger and nothing like Kip’s solo records. But it certainly showcases Kip’s mastery of all that is rock, as he’s already doing the polished hard rock thing with Winger and the musically intricate, progressive-tinged solo stuff. Brother Nate is a pro musician, too, having recorded with some mighty hair bands back in the ‘80s.

Blackwood Creek was child Wingers’ band way back in junior high school, but a casual grownup jam in 2007 led to the recording of this fantastic collection of songs that cry out for a vintage mustang convertible and a drive down a long dirt road on the way to the swimming hole.

“Nothing But the Sun” and “Your Revolution” are just a few of the fantastic tracks that grab you like a vintage Foreigner or Led Zeppelin track. There are acoustic guitars layered on top of distorted electrics, beautiful two and three-part vocal harmonies, and guitar leads with just the right amount of vintage tone with bite.

The ballad “Albatros” brought us back to CSNY even before the lyrics mentioned a Southern Cross, “Jimmy and Georgia” had a spattering of classic Southern rock vibe, and “Love Inspector” straddled a fine line between vintage AC/DC and classic KISS. Another favorite, “Joy Ride,” is one of those feel-good summertime tunes that just makes you want to crank the stereo with the top down and cruise.

Kip proves once again that he’s an expert producer and engineer, but mostly that he’s just one hell of a gifted and talented musician and songwriter.

— SK

 

 
Freak Owls — Taxidermy
The Canon Logic FM Arcade
Artist:
Freak Owls
Album:
Taxidermy
Genre:
Alternative
Bottom
Line:

Freak Owls is ambient fun!

 

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars 3.63

So I’m sitting in the office on a sunny afternoon, the light reflecting off my desk in patterns, and the sky is a perfect azure. This album, Taxidermy, by Freak Owls, is playing through my ear buds and it inspires me to go outside and frolic in the parking lot and say “Hello! The world is beautiful!” to everyone I see. But, alas, I have responsibilities; I take a sip of my water and start typing this review.

Josh Ricchio, the brain daddy of this project, has worked with other bands such as Pela, Ladycop and The Symphony Case during the last twelve years. Ricchio wrote most of Taxidermy (besides “Place to Be” which was written by Nick Drake) in the spring of 2009. Eric Sanderson of Pela recorded the album, and it features a variety of instruments including such rock mainstays as the ukulele and mandolin.

This album is adorable. Really. There are claps and beautiful harmonies and glockenspiel. It is eclectic musical fusion but mellow at the same time. Think The Animal Collective meets Broken Social Scene meets your last visit to the beach. Not the trip when your dad wore that terrible Speedo; the other one.

This carefree attitude comes through in the single “Little Things” – “I’ll be your caterpillar / I’ll be your butterfly / I’ll be whatever you want baby.” An excellent choice for a single, and thematically similar to Backseat Goodbye’s “Technicolor Eyes,” this song is cute and the lyrics are relatable. I mean, what young adult doesn’t like sitting on the couch with a beer and a significant other?

At the same time, though, Taxidermy has an eerie air of desolation, coming through in songs such as “Seaquid” and “Belles.” The sequencing of this album (track order) is a big part of its success. After “Belles” comes “Optimistic Automatic,” an upbeat number with vocal harmonies and instrumental parts filling every space. The songs are all tied together by Ricchio’s simple, mellow, easy-on-the-ears voice.

What sets Freak Owls apart from some other emerging artists is that after a few listens, the songs got stuck in my head. The majority of the songs sound like they belong on a soundtrack for an indie film. Ricchio achieves his goal for this album being, in his words, “catchiness incarnate.”

— MT

 

 
 
Treat — Coup De Grace
Winger Karma
Artist:
Treat
Album:
Coup De Grace
Genre:
Melodic Hard Rock, AOR
Bottom
Line:

Oh what a treat it is!

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 4 Stars 3.75

Could this be the best Europe album that Europe never made? It’s hard not to draw some similarities between the two Swedish melodic rock giants, who both emerged from Scandinavia at the same point in time (though regrettably only one reached the MTV generation in America at the time). Coup De Grace brings us the other veteran act releasing some outstanding melodic hard rock with a successful ‘80s vibe: big hooks, catchy choruses, big harmonies, bigger guitars, and plenty of keyboards. We say successful because the musicianship and production on this record keeps it all fresh and exciting.

Twenty-five years since their debut, Coup De Grace is Treat’s sixth studio record (there was a thirteen year gap to start families and wait out the death of grunge), and it’s possibly the best recording of their career. The band features vocalist Robert Ernlund, guitarist Anders Wickstrom, drummer Jamie Borgner, bassist Nalle Pahlsson, and keyboardist Patrick Appelgren.

“Paper Tiger” is a great example of Treat’s classic formula, with an arena-ready sing-along chorus, big keyboards, grooving guitars, but with a modern distorted bass tone that keeps it sounding less dated than you might expect.

“A Life To Die For” is your classic power ballad, and it makes us long for the days when MTV used to actually play music videos and rap wasn’t even considered a musical genre. The sound here is totally vintage AOR — think Alias’s “More Than Words Can Say” meets Europe’s “Carrie.”

“Tangled Up” has a cool Motley Crue bass groove with modern guitar hooks and cool wah leads (and a hint of Def Leppard-esque gang vocals), but our favorite track has to be the modern metal “Skies of Mongolia.” This track features modern heavy rectifier crunch, glistening clean guitar arpeggios in the verse (think of Europe’s “Ready or Not”), and modern Nightwish-style keyboard stabs. It’s aggressive and culminates in a chorus hook that’s got both passion and anger. If Treat wrote everything like this song, they would pick up a whole new younger generation of fans for sure.

Unlike ‘80s records, the production is modern (i.e. it’s not washed away in reverb, and the drums have a good presence) and it’s one slick, polished, and hard rocking CD. Despite the obvious ‘80s influence on the songwriting and music style, the songs never bore us, probably because the musicianship is really top notch. Ernlund's vocals are beautiful, and the guitar work from Wickstrom, with an obvious Phil Collen/Steve Clark influence, reminds us why we love Scandanavian guitar players so much. It’s hard to stop listening to this one.

— SK

 

 
Leslie Loh — Metamothosis
The Canon Logic FM Arcade
Artist:
Leslie Loh
Album:
Metamothosis
Genre:
J-pop, Electronica, AAA
Bottom
Line:

Stings like a high school heartbreak!

 

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 2.5
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 3.00

Leslie Loh sings sexually charged lyrics, conducts a brilliant string section, has a degree in economics, and can kick your ass in a mixed martial arts tournament? This woman is a Jack — er, Jill of all trades. On Metamothosis, Loh wrote the music and lyrics, sang, co-produced, played violin and piano, and conducted members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

It’s clear that this San Francisco native takes no prisoners, and with a title like Metamothosis, we get the feeling that she devours her boyfriends like a praying mantis eats the head of its mate, sometime before the courtship even begins. Immerse yourself in the lyrics and you get the feeling that Loh completely immersed herself in writing this record to try and overcome the destruction of her heart and soul by at least one lover who not only didn’t lose his head, but actually had the audacity to choose another mate over the beautiful and dangerous vixen.

Lyrically, Metamothosis falls somewhere betweenHigh School Musical and The Cure’s Disintegration. We get the picture of a very frail, distraught, highly neurotic, desperate-for-love, young woman. Unrequited love is a recurring theme.

We would go so far as to say that listening to the lyrics on Metamothosis should not be attempted by men in general — especially men in relationships, as Loh will leave you with a feeling of numbness, like someone tore out your spine. If this is beginning to sound more like therapy than a CD review, that’s because this is precisely the feeling you get the more you listen to the album.

Metamothosis opens with Evanescence-like distorted power chords and resolves into a piano melody with suspenseful violins lurking in the background. Each track following it features mixtures of piano, electric guitar, strings, and well-produced electronic beats. The music on this album is catchy overall and seems to have a variety of influences ranging from classical to J-pop to electronica.

Loh is a great talent — make no mistake about that. The music and performance is top notch, though the production of the heavy guitars was a bit too thin to really drive them home like they should have sounded.  It may have been the fault of using modeled amps, or just that the guitars weren’t optimally recorded, but the tone and performance from Gary Kum was excellent.

Loh’s singing voice is very simple and breathy, with a pleasant J-Pop feel. However, it borders on “off-key” at times, and her diction sometimes comes across as a bit strange. For someone raised in the United States and educated in Great Britain, and with such an impressive resume, we were surprised by the depth of her Chinese accent.

The musical weakness (and only kink in her flawless shell) lies in Loh’s lyrics: they are often very cliché and other times sadly literal. They don’t always fit the music syllabically, and often times come across like grade school poetry. When Loh isn’t crying about why her boyfriend doesn’t appreciate the love she gives him, she’s being overtly sexual. It’s that duality between a teenaged broken heart and bedroom porn star that contributes to the neurotic vibe.

The lyrics of “Flow” are particularly disturbing, as Loh sings, “I can taste you on my tongue/ I can feel you stare while I suck your thumb.” Creepy, in a way that the ‘80s classic “Sugar Walls” from Sheen Easton never made us feel.

If Loh were to team up with a writing partner or coach to bring her lyrics to a higher level, she could have a great future. And please, Leslie, get some therapy. Our hearts really do go out to you. We just wish that every listen of Metamothosis didn’t feel like our best friend repeating the same broken-record story of her failed attempts at relationships.

— MT and SK

 

 
 

 

 

   
           
             
             
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