Category Archives: Record of the Month

Record of the Month

I figured I’d do a monthly ‘what I’m listening to’ kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it’s my blog! So there!

Have you (n)ever experienced Raul Malo? It’s possible you did – when going back a while he was a member of the Mavericks – a group deemed Country, but possibly too hip for that genre. If you weren’t Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson or the likes, you had a harder time making in-roads into radio and sales when they were around.

Like the Mavericks, Malo continues that style: Some Country. Part Latin influence. A little Tex-Mex.  And more than a hint of Roy Orbison thrown in. His newest disk, Lucky One, doesn’t stray too far from what he knows or what he has done in the past. This is not a bad thing.

Malo can mix all those together and pull them off as being pretty original, as no one else out there is really putting those things together. Being Cuban, Malo brings authentic latin vibes to his music, but it is not overpowering.

Malo has always been a strong vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist – even if he has never attempted to downplay Orbison as an influence. That is not to say that all his songs sound like an Orbsion redux, Roy is an influence, Raul is not a copycat.

There are a number of strong songs on the disk – and I’ve always been a bigger fan of the things that go more in 2/4 time.  The 4/4 stuff is just fine, but I like what I like.

“Haunting Me” is hands down one of the best songs (if not the best) of 2009.  The guitar work is good, but it is really the vocals and the vocal arrangement that he totally nails.  I have played this song to death and it does not get old.

I really like the title track, “Lonely Hearts”, “Hello Again”.  “Moonlight Kiss” is fun, but it is not a continual play at this point.

As the slower stuff goes, let’s get this right off the table: “Something Tells Me” is one of the best songs Orbison never wrote or released. Malo pulls it off flawlessly.  He knows when to turn it on and not make it sound karaoke.

It is hard for me, sometimes, to listen to the slower stuff without hearing Orbison (“One More Angel”, “Crying for You”).  I’m a Roy fan, so it’s all good.  I think Raul finds it hard to sing slower songs any other way.  Or maybe I can’t turn off hearing what I think I hear.

Lucky One is a pretty strong album as a whole, but if you’re only into downloading .mp3s and not an entire disk, and had to pick only one song, it should be “Haunting Me”.   …but there are plenty of other good ones to chose from.

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Record of the Month

I figured I’d do a monthly ‘what I’m listening to’ kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it’s my blog! So there!

I reviewed Arcade Fire‘s second disk, The Neon Bible, a while back.  It was their first one I purchased.  But they did have have a debut disk, Funeral, which I’m just now getting around to putting out here.

I’ve only had it for about a year, but the disk is actually pushing being five years old.  Clearly, they take their time with what they put out.

By reading the reviews in places like amazon, their fan base clearly prefers Funeral over Neon Bible.   I’m not of this ilk.

Neon Bible really struck a chord with me.  Funeral is ok, and for me, it shows a lot of potential of what they could become, but I’m also working backwards, so who knows how it would have played out if I had heard it first.

The good things about it are that it is still very innovative.  With the number of band members and the array of instruments that they play, and the combinations in which they play them is still way different than anything else out there now, or in 2004.

They also mixed it up a bit more with vocalists.  Win Butler still provides the majority of the lead, but now and again Regine Chassagne will take over.  This doesn’t happen on their follow-up recording.

There are some really good songs on here – “Neighborhood #1”  (there are four “Neighborhood” songs) and “In the Backseat”, which has Chassagne’s Bjork-like vocals on it.  Then there is the funness of  “Wake Up”.

That all being said, overall, the disk just did not gel for me.  I can’t pinpoint what about it just isn’t doing it for me.  It’s not a bad disk, but with all the positive reviews I guess I was expecting so much more.

I guess that’s what I get for reading reviews before purchasing.   Let this be a lesson to you all.

Oh…..wait……..

Record of the Month

I figured I’d do a monthly ‘what I’m listening to’ kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it’s my blog! So there!

Heard of Lisa Hannigan? I’ll assume the answer is a ‘no’.

No real reason you should. She’s been a good Irish vocalist, appearing on a number of projects – most notably Damien Rice’s last two studio disks. Hannigan does a great job being the harmony to his melody.  She has also shown up on Snow Patrol and Herbie Hancock recordings.

But now she’s put our her debut solo disk, Sea Sew.

Just because she is a good collaborator does not make her a great stand-along artist. I was bummed. I was hoping for a stand-out album.  What is good in theory becomes 10 songs of extremely similar nature.

What she is good at on Rice’s disks she has spread out for her entire song selection on Sea Sew.  I like a bit of variety, even if the style remains the same. Hannigan only has one song that breaks that mold, “Keep it All”.

That is not to say the other songs are not serviceable.  They are well put together, and well executed.  But they are just bland – at least when played back to back.  I find that her strength is being that stable vocal figure to someone like Rice – who can sometimes go manic on his songs (listen to their “i remember” from his first solo disk).  I think she could break out of that role and I think this album is decent – just safe.

I don’t have a video of her solo work, but you can see/hear her on the below video, as she sings with Rice on his song, “volcano”.

Record of the Month

I figured I’d do a monthly ‘what I’m listening to’ kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it’s my blog! So there!


I will say, no one is more surprised by my like of the Killers than myself. I think I said that after I took my nephew to their concert pushing two years ago now, I would guess. Sure I had heard the hits of Hot Fuss on the airwaves and really took to “Somebody Told Me”, but not enough to buy the album.

It was their follow-up, the underrated and under appreciated Sam’s Town, that I really liked. Sure Sam’s Town had some Springtseen-esque qualities, or almost plagiarism, but it still worked. Their third disk of b-sides and out-takes was just that – killing time until a new disk landed. And it has.

Much like their first two disks, the Killers’ new release, Day & Age, comes across as trading on many older styles. Last time it was some Bruce, but this time they are back to (re)visit Bowie, Roxie Music, Duran Duran and New Order, as they did on their debut. Yeah, they have influences from my past, but on the other hand, they seem to pull much of it off as their own.

For musicianship and vocal talent, the Killers are quite adept and perform fairly well. They are all credible in their playing and singing.

Day & Age was produced by Stuart Price, who did Madonna’s Confession on a Dance Floor. You can hear some of that in this work, especially in “Human”, but for the most part, he blazes no new trails.

With “Human”, the group may have achieved the best pop song of the year. While the song was built for, but failed at, radio airplay – I’m a bigger fan of the opener, “Losing Touch”. With the horns and the vocal changes, it has a Bowie-like feel. “Spaceman” is also fun and could be a radio hit.

“A Dustland Fairytale” could be from Sam’s Town (read: Springsteen again) in style. The slow burn of “The World That We Live In” is kind of surprising to me. Ditto with the chorus to “Neon Tiger”. And I like the traditional disk closer, “Goodnight, Travel Well”. None of these will make a radio playlist ever. (I say ‘traditional’ because the iTunes version contains an additional three songs.)

And while there are other strong songs on the disk, there are some clearly weaker material (“Joy Ride”, “This is Your Life”).

If you’re looking for depth when it comes to lyrical content, you may as well look elsewhere (“you sold your soul, like a Roman vagabond”. Really??). Brandon Flowers (no relation, I don’t think, to the accomplished and world-acclaimed, Rebecca), might possibly be the gayest straight man ever, but he is not passing off meaningful words to most of these songs. You just have to take it for what it is.

I guess Day & Age is a three and a half-star disk. I would bet the material presents better live, but this is just a regular recording that you can skip and play what you wish.

Record of the Month

I figured I’d do a monthly ‘what I’m listening to’ kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it’s my blog! So there!

These may or may not be newly released disks. They might not even be a good disk – just what is been in heavy rotation in my car (as usually the iPod is playing anywhere else). I was not expecting a Lucinda Williams disk so soon after West was released. I didn’t even know Little Honey was coming until I stumbled across a review in a Sunday paper a few days prior to its release date.

Unlike many, I really liked West, save a few songs. I thought it had some unique elements for a Williams disk. It was supposedly her ‘sad’ album, as opposed to her ‘angry’ album or this one, which people are calling her ‘happy’ disk. Whatever.

Williams sings with such conviction on any of her releases, that I don’t really go for the emotional labels people & reviewers insist putting on her.

But I will say – after a month or so of playing, this disk is not grabbing me. Not entirely. It has its moments, but all of her disks have moments (World Without Tears, anyone??). I will also say, the iPod has made full “album” listening much more difficult. I lament the loss of the needle hitting vinyl and listening to a disk song by song. Some of the issue is my time, or lack thereof.

I’m not surprised at folks like Jim Lauderdale & Elvis Costello on the disk. A little more at Matthew Sweet and much more so of Susanna Hoffs (though when you get Sweet, sometimes you get Hoffs), and then can’t quite over a cover of any AC/DC song (“It’s a Long Way to the Top”). It was a surprise to see a little known singer, Gia Ciambotti, from an 80’s group called the Graces, doing background vocals.

As with the last few albums, Williams has some stand-outs, some ok songs and some clunkers.
I love “Knowing”, “Circle and X’s” and “Rarity”.  I really like “Real Love” and “Little Rock Star” too.  But in my opinion, when the songs clunk, they clunk.  I’m not a fan of “Well Well Well” or “Honey Bee” – and don’t get me started on that AC/DC song.

My only true problem with Lucinda’s last few disks is that she is consistently inconsistent.  And that is an issue I had not seen in her before World Without Tears.  I’m hoping she can rectify that.  Like I said, all of her disks have moments – I want more than that.

Record of the Month

I figured I’d do a monthly ‘what I’m listening to’ kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it’s my blog! So there!

These may or may not be newly released disks. They might not even be a good disk – just what is been in heavy rotation in my car (as usually the iPod is playing anywhere else).

Yeah – I’m a few months behind on this release. I bought it day one, but just never got around to writing about it.

Hailed even pre-release as a return to R.E.M.’s roots, and the press laid so much credence in this thought – it would kind of be hard to live up to.

The result – they do and they don’t.

Is Accelerate the new Fables of the Reconstruction? No. But I didn’t expect it to be. But on the upside, it’s also not one of their last two or three releases either. While those were not horrid, they were just there and not horribly well thought out.

I enjoyed Accelerate – more than any disk since Automatic for the People – but that is not to compare those two disks. The new release has much much much more guitar – much more of a core band feel. It is a welcome retro feel, but it is not 1980 – make no mistake.

I really enjoy the first four songs – especially “Hallow Man” and “Supernatural Superserious”. Michael Stipe’s vocal abilities haven’t changed too much over the years, but what I never hear anyone go on about is how much Mike Mills’ harmonies really help make the band. I’ve always been a fan of Peter Buck’s guitar playing.

Accelerate isn’t as fun as Document, Reckoning or Murmur – but it’s not meant to be. Of course, I just might be stuck in my own nostalgia. But Accelerate takes the energy of the old R.E.M. and sticks them in the present.

Record of the Month

I figured I’d do a monthly ‘what I’m listening to’ kind of thing. This could be viewed as a lame placeholder kind of post. And probably it is. But it’s my blog! So there!

These may or may not be newly released disks. They might not even be a good disk – just what is been in heavy rotation in my car (as usually the iPod is playing anywhere else). Whoa! has Lindsey Buckingham not aged well – physically.  How many covers shots were taken before they finally settled on this beauty?  eeek.  He looks like a beaten man.

Buckingham, however, has aged just fine musically.  At least with Gift of Screws.  His solo album track record isn’t all that great.  I say that every other disk he releases is listenable.  That is not to say they aren’t all interesting, just not everyday kind of fare.

Gift is his only his fifth release in 27 years. He clearly peaked with 1992’s Out of the Cradle, and while 2006’s Under the Skin was great musically, lyrically and vocally it majorly lacked.  And that is has always been his biggest issue as a solo artist.  Buckingham is clearly a great arranger, producer and guitarist – possibly one of the most underrated guitarists that is out there.  But the experimentation he started on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk has gotten the better of him.

Without other singers/songwriters/musicians to balance his quirks, sometimes he just comes off as the Howard Hughes of pop music.

That being said – Gift of Screws brings Buckingham back to center.  Left of center for sure, but a bit more normalcy for the listening public.  There are Tusk and Cradle elements in the songs, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it sounds like any of this other albums.  But some of them sound some of this other songs.  I don’t think he can help himself with his multi-layered vocals.  Not a bad thing, and it is not nearly as annoying as it was on Under the Skin.

Yeah, I’m a sucker for late 70s Fleetwood Mac, so I find the best songs to be “Did You Miss Me” and “Love Runs Deeper”.  His guitar work on songs like “Bel Air Rain” is exemplary (as it is on “Time Precious Time” – but with weak weak vocals), but how does the beginning of “A Right Place to Fade” not pull directly from his Rumours song, “Second Hand News”?  …and not just the beginning, I guess.  “Underground” and “Treason” reflect some Cradle work.

Incorporating the past with the present isn’t a horrible thing or equates to selling out.  There is only so long one can stand out on the edge beforealienating your buying public.  Buckingham has stepped off that edge, possibly just in time.

Will the disk get any kind of radio or VH1 support?  No, but it is a decent disk that should at least have the chance to be heard.