Jerry Lee Lewis – Last Man Standing

Jerry Lee Lewis – Last Man Standing / 2006 Shangri-La / 21 Tracks / http://www.jerryleelewis.com /

Jerry Lee Lewis is an individual whose time had came and left by the time that I started listening to music in the middle nineties. This does not mean that ey does not have anything left in the gas tank, but that I had never heard anything more than a few singles from Lewis in my musical existence. This album has the same general concept as the “American” series of albums that Johnny Cash released before ey died. This means that twenty-one tracks are played by Lewis (with guest musicians), ranging from those made famous by B.B. King to Toby Keith to Don Henley and Kid Rock.

The tracks represent some famous tracks “Rock and Roll” as well as songs that are probably pet projects of Lewis eirself (“Honky Tonk Woman”). The most interesting thing about “Last Man Standing” is that Lewis is able to bring these disparate tracks together into some semblance of cohesion. This means that, if individuals did not know that Neil Young was on “You Don’t Have To Go”, that they would think that the song is a solid contribution to the sound that is “Last Man Standing”. Even though the style of rock that Lewis is capable of and shows on this CD is definitely an older style of the genre, there is still a current and vital sound to eir contributions on this album. Despite creeping up in the years, Lewis has not lost a step.

Of particular note during this album have to be tracks like “Before the Night is Over” and “Pink Cadillac”. The sheer amount of tracks on this CD make this even more of a value; Lewis knows how to ensure that this disc will be flying off of the shelves, even if ey has not had an independent hit for quite a few years.  Lewis succeeds in much the same way as Cash did “American”. Lewis has so much charisma and ability that ey is able to keep the nuance of the accompanying artists on the tracks while still coming forth with eir own style and sound.  Lewis could conceivably release these type of albums every few years and end eir career on a strong note. If this sounds like a strong album, pick this up and give it a good few spins.  The duet album is something that is increasing in popularity, and for good reason; the joining in by talented musicians is bound to end well.

Top Tracks: Evening Gown, Twilight

Rating: 6.4/10

Sasha & Shawna – Siren

Sasha & Shawna – Siren / 2007 Blue Note / 12 Tracks / http://www.sashaandshawna.com / http://www.manhattanrecords.com /

I feel so un-educated when I get an album like “Siren”. For example, I was not familiar with Sasha Lazard, Shawna Stone, or Grammy-award winning producer Peter Asher. This album is a blend of classic opera tracks along with the duo’s reinterpretation of popular songs. These songs include Radiohead’s “Fade Out”, which opens the disc, along with Kansas’ “Dust In The Wind” and James Taylor’s “Close Your Eyes”.

While “Fade Out” is a typical Radiohead sound, the strong vocal presence in the track brings the resulting composition much more close to an Evanescence track. I know that I will be called a heretic by all of the Radiohead fans, but I feel that this track has a much more emotional and full sound than did the original, making this version the one I’d prefer. Regardless, this track is perfect as an opener, as it allows for individuals that may be intimidated by a track like “Per Te / For You” to gradually come into that track. The track is not hard to approach after given the emotional gravity of “Fade Out”; in fact, the track feels like it would be good in a Spanish-language version of a Disney movie. The only thing that seems odd about this track is that the instrumentation feels a little dated, even as the vocals are timeless. “I Know Itr’s Real” is a track that continues the slower sound of “Per Te/For You”, but the vocals of this duet just are not enough to further this track. Luckily for “Siren”, the inclusion of “Dust In The Wind” acts as a re-start.

The solid vocal work on this track re-energizes listeners, as does the instrumentation that largely stays true to the original. What I would like to see in Sasha and Shawna is something that represents a split of the two styles on “Siren”. Have a disc of their re-interpretations of rock classics, and have something a little more formal, such as their work on “Stabat Mater IXXI” and “O Del Mio Dolce Ardor”. Doing that would allow fans of either style just to listen to songs in that style, instead of bouncing back and forth between these two disparate styles throughout the disc. The disc suffers due to this split in focus, and while the singers cannot be faulted in the slightest for this, the album is not as enjoyable as it could be. Here’s to hoping that Blue Note goes the direction I suggest.

Top Tracks: Fade Out, Dust In The Wind

Rating: 5.2/10

Rachel Margaret – Buena Vista Park

Rachel Margaret – Buena Vista Park / 2007 Self / 4 Tracks  http://www.myspace.com/rachelmargaretmusic /

“Landfill” is one of the focal points on “Buena Vista Park”, and while the instrumentation is softly-stated and meanders around the vocals, Margaret here comes correct and creates a brand of modern pop-rock that is just as honest and impressive as anything released by Fiona Apple or others of her ilk. “Someday Soon” is a slightly faster song than “Landfill”, and brings Margaret into the space created by Annie Lennox and Enya, albeit with a more marketable sound. This more radio friendly sound is what links this track to “Landfill”, and ensures that listeners will keep focused in to “Buena Vista Park“. The title track for this EP uses more of the wide-open compositions that presented themselves on “Someday Soon”. “Buena Vista Park” is interesting due to the trend during the track for the instrumentation to rival the vocals in regards to the emotional content in each.

It takes a rare brand of musician to be able to create such a high level of emotional content on a track, but this trend is present throughout all of “Buena Vista Park“. “Solitude” may have a more inorganic sound to the instrumentation on the track, but this does not mean that the compositions on the track are sterile. Actually, the electronic, cold sound of the track feels to me to be a second set of vocals, the negative to the weary positive that Margaret puts forth on this track. “Buena Vista Group” may only be an EP, but individuals will understand quite well where Margaret is coming from by the time that this album spins to an end.

During the entirety of “Buena Vista Group”, Margaret handles eirself quite well. This gives me hope that the successes achieved here could easily be transferred to an album that is twice or thrice the time of “Buena Vista Park“. There is significant variation to the tracks on this EP, while still crafting a common thread of current pop-rock that runs through the songs here. Given the success of “Buena Vista Park“, it would not be a surprise to see Margaret receive rotation on contemporary and pop/rock format radio stations. All that ey needs is a video, and this could easily make it to the Good Life network or VH1 (if VH1 still plays videos, that is). Simply put, Rachel Margaret is an artist whose stock can only go up from here. Pick this EP up.

Top Track: Someday Soon

Rating: 6.2/10

The Christine Spero Group – My Spanish Dream

The Christine Spero Group – My Spanish Dream / 2007 Self / 9 Tracks / http://cdbaby.com/cd/christinespero2 /

One of the first things that is heard at the beginning of “My Spanish Dream” has to be the entirety of The Christine Spero Group weaving their instruments together to come up with a coherent and cohesive sound. Hints of Latin arrangements and jazz spontaneity immediately confront listeners during the disc’s first track, “My Spanish Dream”. The tango-like arrangements that end the chorus provide a form of onomatopoeia to this track that is simply to die for. “Don’t Say No” builds off of “My Spanish Dream” due primarily to the piano arrangements of Christine Spero. The smooth compositions in “Don’t Say No”, coupled with the vocals of Spero, elicits comparisons to Gloria Estefan and the talented musicians in the Miami Sound Machine.

While it is true that The Christine Spero Group tends to go towards the slower, more lounge-worthy tracks rather than the dance-fests that were often present during Estefan’s work, the talent exhibited by the bands and the distinctive vocals of the singers are similar. “Caribbean Nights” builds off of “Don’t Say No”, in that the set of influences influential in the creation of the track are the same between the tracks, giving each of the two songs a very early eighties feel.

However, at no point during “My Spanish Dream” does The Christine Spero Group sound dated in the least. One of the strong suits of The Christine Spero Group during this album has to be their ability to use older styles and couch it in a way that will entice listeners in the current
period to pick up the album.

Listeners will be enticed by the instrumental interplay present during “Just So You Know”, which brings the ropier sound of the bass into direct conflict with the twinkling high end of the track. Instead of creating dissonance during this track, the struggle for dominance between these two pieces of the band makes each side work harder and their efforts all the more impressive. The Christine Spero Group was only able to react in this way due to their amazing ability as musicians and the fact that Christine eirself has been working in creating these types of songs for well over a half decade. The tropical rhythms present on “My Spanish Dream” increase the replay value of this album, and ensures that listeners will be able to play the disc until that time
when The Christine Spero Group releases their next album.

Top Track: Don’t Say No, The Festival

Rating: 6.5/10

Paris Luna – City Lights

Paris Luna – City Lights / 2007 Self / 11 Tracks / http://www.parisluna.com /

Paris Luna start out their “City Lights” in a way that reminds me of Sixpence None the Richer. The first track on “City Lights” is “Having a Hard Time”. “Having a Hard Time” is a rock track in the same vein as a Kelly Clarkson; the bass and drums make for an easy listening track, one in which the vocals of Paris rest comfortably. The band’s work on “Having a Hard Time” and on the second, more country-influenced “Someday” shows that they are very capable. During “Someday”, the band is able to craft a sound that is specifically their own, while moving to include a more Shania Twain-esque set of vocals at points.

The acoustic guitar that opens up “Tell Me Why” is yet another new thing that individuals will experience when it comes to Paris Luna’s “City Lights”. The guitar work opens up and the end result is again something that would not be surprising in the least ot hear on modern rock radio. The one thing that I feel is a difference between Paris Luna and the rest of the acts on those types of stations has to be that Paris Luna tells much more of a story with each track on “City Lights” than the other acts in the genre. The guitar progression on “Tell Me Why” shows that the rest of Paris Luna’s band is much more talented as musicians than many of the acts in that genre.

The fact that every one of the tracks on “City Lights” could conceivably rocket up the charts is further testament to the skills and abilities of Luna and the rest of eir band. “No Good For Me” is a track that breaks free of the general formula used by Luna, in that the tempo is much slower and the vocals are much more emotional than in prior tracks. There is some unity between “No Good For Me” and the rest of the tracks on the disc, but the success of this track shows that Paris Luna will succeed in any style, using any sort of influences that are thrown at them. Paris Luna will be big after the right individuals hear this album, and I have a feeling that this will happen in the short term rather than the long term. Check out Paris Luna now, and be sent on an emotional, fun, and impressive type of modern rock.

Top Tracks: Having a Hard Time, All for Nothing

Rating: 6.8/10

Street Dogs – Fading American Dream

Street Dogs – Fading American Dream / 2006 Brass Tacks / 13 Tracks / http://www.street-dogs.com / http://www.drt-entertainment.com /

Street Dogs’ first album was fucking amazing. Simple as that. Their second album was still decent, but it had less of the fury and fun style that “Savin Hill” had. Street Dogs are back with their third album, “Fading American Dream”, and it might just be the best of the three. The band links together Rancid with the streetpunk bands of the eighties, along with the sound that the band has to have given the fact that they have a former member of the Dropkick Murphys present. “Not Without A Purpose” catches individuals not only with catchy guitar lines and bouncy bass lines, but with a harmony on the vocals that in many ways is another instrument that can be used by the band. Continue reading “Street Dogs – Fading American Dream”

Albert Hammond, Jr – Yours To Keep

Albert Hammond, Jr – Yours To Keep / 2007 New Lie / 10 Tracks / http://www.myspace.com/alberthammonjr / http://www.newlinerecords.com /

Albert Hammond does not sound like much of a rocker. However, for those individuals that do not know, ey was one of the integral parts to the seminal band The Strokes. The opening track on “Yours To Keep” is “Cartoon Music For Superheroes”, and it does not sound like the hard, catchy rock of The Strokes for a second. Rather, Hammond plays a style of dreamy pop that has a lot of influence drawn from the sixties pop acts like The Turtles and The Monkees.

Hell, there is even a nod to the sun-baked sounds of the Beach Boys, with more than a passing glance to their “Kokomo”. The track is endearing but it does not yet mark a solo hit for Hammond. The second track on the disc makes a much stronger play for radio rotation. This track, “In Transit”, still uses a lot of the earlier influences to create a track. However, unlike “Cartoon Music”, “In Transit” has a link to the work of acts like Interpol and Fischerspooner, in that there is just a minor hit of electronic music that plays on the edge of the track. The hooky, Polaris-like drum beats of “Everyone Gets A Star” works with the deadpan vocals of Hammond during this track to play to the Bloodhound Gang crew. This track could make it up the charts in the “ironic” way, and the song should be noticed for its’ smart arrangements. This is the first track, in fact, that makes me appreciate Hammond as a master of arrangement. By the end of “Everyone Gets A Star”, Hammond is sitting pretty. For my money, it is the lead up to the chorus on “Bright Young Thing” that makes “Yours To Keep” for me.

The emotional gravity, coupled with impressive instrumentation, is THE reason why individuals should pick up this album. Couple that with a linkage back to the sixties sound of prior tracks along with the dance-like drumming, and one has a track that shines in both the single and album context.  Albert Hammond, Jr on eir “Yours To Keep” does well in the construction of a post-Strokes style. I actually prefer Hammond’s sound at points over the highly repetitive sound of The Strokes. I just hope, that as the years pass, that Hammond can come up with more in the way of solo efforts that are up to the same high quality of “Yours To Keep”. 

Top Tracks: Bright Young Thing, Blue Skies

Rating: 6.1/10

Bad Religion – New Maps of Hell

Bad Religion – New Maps of Hell / 2007 Epitaph / 16 Tracks / http://www.badreligion.com / http://www.epitaph.com /

Anyone that actually knows me knows that Bad Religion is one of my favorite bands of all time. I thought that they had a trying time in the Atlantic days, but that they came back to true form with “The Process of Belief” and “The Empire Strikes First”. With Joe Barresi at the helm (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age), how will the band sound? Well, Bad Religion sounds a lot like they always have, but the band seems to have included some Weezer into their overall sound. Now, I did not like what Todd Rungren did to the band for their “New America” album. Continue reading “Bad Religion – New Maps of Hell”

Cashis – The County Hound EP

Cashis – The County Hound EP / 2007 Shady / 8 Tracks / http://www.myspace.com/cashisoc / http://www.shadyrecords.com /

Cashis is the latest project put forth by Eminem and eir Shady Records. Eminem’s touch has not been the strongest with the last few releases on the label, with Obie Trice being the most notable failure up to that point. “That Nigga A Gangster” is the first full track on the disc, and it has a strong flow. The fuzzy backdrop for Cashis to flow on works well as well, and the second set of vocals give a nice contrast to the track. Overall, Cashis starts this EP in a strong way. Continue reading “Cashis – The County Hound EP”

OST: 300 Soundtrack

OST: 300 / 2007 WB / 25 Tracks / http://www.300themovie.warnerbros.com /

Pretty much everyone has seen 300 at this point. It is the story of the valiant Spartan army against the evil Persians; what individuals may not be immediately familiar with is the work of Tyler Bates. Bates, who composed the score to this movie, is best known for creating the soundtrack to movies like Dawn of the Dead and The Devil’s Rejects. The subject matter is a little different, but Bates comes up with a score that fits the movie and the current period well. Continue reading “OST: 300 Soundtrack”