Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: The 71's "We Are The 71's"

The musical genre of rock n’ roll is defined by as: “A style of popular music that derives in part from blues and folk music and is marked by a heavily accented beat and a simple, repetitive phrase structure.” But let’s be honest with ourselves and agree, that definition captures nothing of the spirit of what rock n’ roll truly is.  For, rock music is music that is of the people, for the people, and, yes, by the people.  Its music of protest, music of love, music of passion that carries with it the hopes and dreams and emotions of the common man.  It is the genre of excess, an overabundance of passion spilling out and benefiting all who hear it and standing in stark, unfettered opposition to those who don’t appreciate it.

Texas-based rock outfit The 71’s embody this spirit and take it to the next level.  Owning this passion for the music, front man Keeton Coffman shares, “Music is not a quest for fame or a means to an end, it is the end itself.  We’re just four guys in search of rock and roll heaven … here on Earth.” The band's success began with 2009’s We Are Locomotive, which opened the doors to rising fame, seeing the band garner tons of airplay, having songs played by MTV, VH-1, BRAVO and more.  Additionally, they’ve been able to take their live show to huge audiences, playing shows with artists as diverse as Kris Allen, Sister Hazel, and The Robbie Seay Band.

And that fame is well deserved as is evidenced by the music found on this latest release, We are The 71’s. Originally intended as the final installment in their Rock and Roll Reaction Trilogy, a collection of EPs, the band instead chose to honor the blood, sweat, and tears with a full-length release.  The 71’s brand of rock n’ roll is visceral, vibrating out with an emotion that seeps radiates forth straight from the gut.  Its music that packs a punch yet manages to do so with poise and precision as well.  In fact, one of the most interesting elements found on this record is that, by and large, there are no extraneous elements to be found.  Every one of Coffman’s vocals and offerings are there for a reason alongside Ryan Cecil’s guitars, Jacob Lisenbe’s throbbing bass notes, and Tank Lisenbe’s pounding percussion.  Each note stands there with a purpose and offers nothing more than that.  It’s a strange element to be found in a genre known for excess but is one that elevates this music overall.

And elevate it is does.  From the raw, raging power of opener “Blue Blood,” the distorted vibe of “Confession,” or the garage rock of “Waves,” this album begins strong.  Coffman’s vocal delivery is particularly influential, rising from sonorous low notes to a full, raspy scream that is just what the doctor ordered.  The band provides some more able jams with the White Stripes feeling “Adeline,” accented with some nice percussion from Tank and solid backing vocals.

“10,000 Miles” finds the group offering up a lower key love song that builds from subtle beginnings to a rousing rocker while “Taken” is moody and big, with huge guitars, carefully placed feedback, and is simply one of the album’s greatest fist-pumping tracks.  “Victimology” keeps that same formula, opening with great moody notes before bursting out into full-on rock glory, rhythm guitars wailing and Coffman screeching into the rafters.  “Much Too Much” brings some contrast with falsetto backing vocals and a stop-and-start arrangement that’s solid.

“Prince” finds Coffman taking to that same falsetto with some “wah wah” guitar notes and pumping bass while “Lucky to Lose” is musically all over the place, dipping and diving here and there.  “Heaven” is an appropriately muted track, at least for this band, before building and allowing for a crescendo at the end as “Monsters” is an impressively expansive track, finding the band offer up elements of classic and contemporary rock, all stamped with The 71’s signature over ten minutes time.

We Are The 71’s is more than just an album for this band; it’s a declaration.  This is this quartet’s shout out to the world that they are here and they are going to make great music whether you like it or not.  With a sound that captures elements of the Foo Fighters, Muse, Jet, The White Stripes, and more, this is a band to keep on the radar.  The 71’s are here to stay.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Peter Link "Goin' Home: On Heaven and Beyond"

The genre of gospel music has changed quite a bit in the past hundred years.  Traditionally, gospel music was typified by the great choirs, men and women singing in unison and creating ethereal tones that transported people with their simple, soulful eloquence and vertical lyrics.  Gradually, however, as the face of music itself changed and new genres were birthed, groups like the Blind Boys of Alabama would rise up and gather together the sounds of rhythm and blues until Andrae Crouch came along and brought even more change.  In more recent days, artists like Kirk Franklin and Tye Tribbett, among others, have marched onto the scene, merging the contemporary pop and hip hop sounds with those traditional notes into a new brand of gospel.

Peter Link is yet another artist set to add his fingerprint to the soul of gospel music.  Link’s resume is varied, boasting experience as an award-winning composer, lyricist, record producer, and performer, among other things.  He’s written scores for film and television as well as for large-scale Broadway productions and it’s that theatrical element which plays heavily into his arrangements on his latest work, Goin’ Home: On Heaven and Beyond.  In his own words, the recording was written as a “gospel cantata,” as a composition of music written and based around a spiritual text.

In this case, that text, or subject matter as it may be, is the subject of Heaven or of passing from this life to the next.  Link shares that after a spiritual reading regarding those who had not prepared for their transition from life to death, “I thought to myself, “I’d like to go through that experience, when it comes, fully aware and alert, expectant joyful, and filled with spiritual curiosity. When it comes to that transition, we Americans tend to look the other way and pretend that it doesn’t exist. I don’t want to be like that."  Thus, Link’s recording carries a sense of straightforwardness and offers a head on look into the face of death and what he believes lies beyond.

The recording opens up with a classic choral feel, mining the traditions of the gospel genre with “Goin’ Home (Opening)” but quickly opens up into something more modern with the funky bass guitar and blowing horns of “To My Father’s House,” strengthened by powerful lead vocals and a much more contemporary feel.  Things slow down a bit with the entry of “Heaven” which again boasts great vocals alongside a building arrangement.  The theology of the song takes the road less traveled from more traditional sects and offers a unique perspective here as well.

More funk in the intro and a touch of an island feel color “I Ain’t Gonna Grieve My Lord No More/I Got a Robe,” which, sadly, is one of the album’s least powerful tracks.  The arrangement and delivery, with a male and female vocalist trading duties, just falls short, the song seeming trite and childish in the midst of these heavier topics.  Perhaps that sense of new childhood is what is implied but, sadly, it fails.

Thankfully, there’s more to be heard and songs like “There’s a Mountain in My Way,” with its rousing piano work and big horns that stand out alongside a Latin-fueled bridge jam, “In Dat Great Gettin’ Up Mornin’,” and the traditional that segues into the modern take of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” that keep the train rolling.  The latter in particular fares rather well, particularly as it builds, adding in a solid and successful infusion of hip hop into the arrangement and bridging the gap.

Without context, the rest of Link’s album falters however, as pieces like “Embrace the Rainbow,” “I Can’t Go Home,” and “What Could Have Been” tap far more into that theatrical bent and feel as though they don’t fit the overall template.  Taken in context, though, the tracks make far more sense, seen as pieces of Link’s “gospel cantata” vision and holding their own.

In an overall sense, Peter Link’s Goin’ Home: On Heaven and Beyond is a work that reflects very much the heartbeat and experience of its composer.  From the high profile performers heard to the varied arrangements that tackle multiple genre choices, Link’s passion and heart is heard here.  And as an album it works pretty well.  But one can only imagine that the artist envisions this recording as a live performance and that is something that would be well worth seeing.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Movie Quote of the Day!

Obviously, this is from The Shawshank Redemption, a great, great film!

While not all of my movie/lyric quotes will have a pefect reason, today's comes due to the fact that these words have been bouncing around my head for some time now.  I mean, I'm a thirty-six year old guy who's actually like I'm a grandfather!  There is no excuse for my not really getting out there and living life save for my choosing not to do so.

So today I made some choices to do just that.

Stay tuned for what's to come!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Review - The Midtown Men "Sixties Hits"

November 6, 2005, saw the official Broadway debut of The Jersey Boys. The musical, which tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons rise to fame, would quickly catch fire and garner its own version of fame for its well-told story and even better performed musical numbers.  Many of those numbers were Valli’s own and when performed by these dynamic young performers, they found new life.  That life led to the musical garnering tons of press, multiple tours, and, on  June 25, 2011, the musical became the 25th longest-running show on Broadway.

But, in show business and as in life, all good things must come to an end.  And the same was for many of the original cast.  Yet, all was not lost for these young men as they chanced to turn their newfound fame into a revived career for themselves and for the music that they love.  So, as they departed the lights of Broadway, Christian Hoff, Daniel Reichard, Michael Longoria, and J. Robert Spencer came together to form The Midtown Men.

The overall scope of The Midtown Men seems to be to maintain and secure the integrity of the great music gone by.  These guys are faithful to the original material while investing their own passion into the work as well.  The result is something very nostalgic and evokes a feeling of a day gone by, in a good way.  When these guys sing, you can picture something of the Rat Pack and tons of Vegas appearances, Oceans 11-flavored hijinks, and drinks shaken, not stirred.

Perhaps the biggest challenge here on their debut, Sixties Hits, is that The Midtown Men choose to offer up all cover songs here.  Therefore, there’s nothing new to be judged save for their performance and the arrangements.  That can be a refreshing element in some ways and, in others, quite a roadblock.  Thankfully, for this quartet, it works in their favor.

So, with the source material deemed above reproach the question really does come down to the performances.  And there’s very little negative to be said.  The group opens up the album with a rousing medley of hits, joining “Let’s Hang On/Working My Way Back to You/Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” with aplomb, the high notes spot on and the harmonies stunning.  The backing arrangements are faithful to the originals and performed with perfection, putting the artist’s voices right up front.

After that rousing start, the Men turn their sights on The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.”  The arrangement features a bit of horn work, which is nice, and, while the overall package doesn’t quite capture the harmonies of the original, the bit of swing-infused fun that’s injected here gives the song a lift.  “Happy Together” follows after and is better as a sum of its part, with the group vocals definitely outshining the individual lines here and showing the comfort of these voices together.

A bit of Motown comes into play with the rocking rendition of Marvin Gayes’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” while their take on “Dawn” let’s those falsetto’s and tenor vocals shine.  “Candy Girl” is as saccharine sweet as the original, the high notes ringing true throughout and the synergy stunning as they flow into a mid-tempo take on “Up On the Roof.” It’s another track where the solo vocal is solid but the harmonies truly make things happen.

“California Dreamin’” is enough to make The Mamas and the Papas sit up and take notice, the faithful cover managing to evoke solid points of vocal emotion and poise while “Big Girls Don’t Cry” steps in and truly steals the show, finding the group tackle the doo-wop pop with passion and massive skill.  It’s easily the best track on the album and is followed up by the playfulness of “Bye Bye Baby,” a star in its own right.

Amazing source material, faithful arrangements, and stunning vocal deliveries are the hallmark of The Midtown Men’s Sixties Hits.  While these songs beg for a live audience performance, in the meantime, this album does a fine job of capturing the spirit of the past and planting it squarely into a new millennium.  For those in favor of the return of doo wop and more, give a tip of the hat (and buy the album!) to The Midtown Men for sure.