The time comes for every reviewer when the question comes up: to review albums, or not to review albums? In my case, I figured, since I listen to so much music as it is, and since I spend so much on new independent CDs, I might as well start reviewing them! So here it goes, “In My Headphones” Volume 1. Enjoy!
“Love Laughs Hard”
This album defines power pop. And unlike a lot of pop I’ve heard before, this stuff doesn’t always just show the happy side of life. 231 has created their own delicious uptempo style, and they’re taking it all the way to the bank with this new album. This is a CD that flows well as a whole, all the songs seem to lead into each other, something that is rare anymore.
From the first moments of “She Ain’t Gonna Wait”, we can tell where the album is going. That song’s simple catchiness leads into “Turn and Walk Away”, one of the radio gems from last year’s single “Whip Me With Words”. “Turn . . .” is one of those juicy songs that has both a sensitive and comedic side to it that you will understand when you hear. From there it’s straight up for “Love Laughs Hard”. “Hello” and “Free” are solidly performed album songs, possibly future single material, but certainly solid tracks. They lead into “The One”, the closest thing to a ballad on the whoel CD, a song about a girl who puts up with a guy who plays her, and the man in the background who loves her more.
And then we hear the best new song on the whole CD, which, if released as a single, will likely bring the band more studio attention than any other they’ve released before. “Hold Me Down” is an alternative pop song in the grand tradition of things, and it’s catchy as hell to boot. I made the mistake of listening to this song on a crowded bus . . . about half way through the song, I noticed that people were staring at me, and the bus driver had a huge grin on his face. Apparently I had been singing along for quite some time. This song will grab you and it won’t let go. Think Our Lady Peace mixed with a taste of The Calling and Nickelback, and you’ve got this song in a nutshell.
From there, it’s one more solid album track (“When I’m With You”, an uptempo song about the distance that grows between two people who can’t communicate in their relationships), and then two more mainstays from “Whip Me With Words” (“All Alone” and “We Fall”). These nine tracks combine to make a complete album that works on all cylinders. If you’re a fan of power pop or alternative rock, this is the CD to buy.
“Wreck ‘N’ Sow”
For all you alternative country fans out there, this is the place to look. Berkley Hart is a songwriting duo that keeps astounding me at every listen. From the light bluegrass influences of “Wake Up Charlie”, which opens the album, to the light acoustic tones of the closing track “Before Today”, this is a winner.
Among the best tracks is “High School Town”, which is also likely the most commercially appealing song on the CD. This apparently came out of a trip back to a high school reunion, and is a catchy country pop track that has a hook filled chorus and a subtle groove that will catch you up in the song’s soul.
The award for best album track, however, has to go to the eighth cut off the CD, “Barrel of Rain”, which is the best acoustic country song I’ve ever heard. A song of the hardships of life in the dust bowl during the depression, it’s more a look at the subtle things you’ll do for love. The wife has to cut her beautiful long hair because of the lack of water to wash it, and her husband vows to give her a barrel of rain so she’d never have to cut it again. He builds her the barrel, but the rains never come. They lose the crops and the farm, and he dies, never having wanted anything more than to give her the barrel of rain. It’s a poignant view of the era and of the bonds of love and devotion, what people will do for love.
The whole album is excellent, though I can’t detail it all here. All I can say is that “Wreck ‘n’ Sow” is an excellent choice for anyone who loves acoustic, folk, or country music. It succeeds on many levels and is among my favorites in my collection.
Three Minute Mile
“Waiting For Whatever”
Already known as one of Bloomington Indiana’s best live bands, Three Minute Mile have made their mark in the studio as well. “Waiting For Whenever” is a CD that shows what highs these guys can reach, as wel as their potential for improvement with time. It’s a great choice for anyone who wants to hear solid acoustic music and uptempo pop from a band that is well known for their relationship with fans.
Among the best tracks on the album are “Big M”, which shows the acoustic range of guitarist Mike Stocksdale, as well as the excellent vocals of lead singer Jason Kotynski; and “Hope In A Can”, which showcases their humour, their live jam style, the slamming percussion of Justin Seidenberg, and the amazing bass of Justin Leone.
The first half of the album showcases the best of Three Minute Mile’s studio work, which shows their future potential as well. However, the last five songs are more of a demo nature, and following the better first half of the album, they tend to show more of the flaws. But this album is still something that anyone who loves good independent music should have. It’s the debut of a band that is going to be signed sooner than later, and you’ll want to say you heard them when.
Of course if you get a chance to see these guys live, do it! Their true power as a band is when they’re in front of a crowd, and it is when their best work comes out. If anyone should record a live album, Three Minute Mile should. But don’t just take my word for it!
Okay, he’s an Atlantic Records artist, not an independent. So sue me. Marc Cohn’s debut album, circa 1991, gave us the oft ignored classic “Walking In Memphis”, and a lot more. It, in my opinion, brought back the art of the songwriter, as Cohn is one of the best piano blues artists I’ve heard in my twenty years. If you don’t hear this album, you’ll never know how the piano can so evoke emotion that you can’t stop listening. And it would be a true loss on your part.
“Walking In Memphis” was the single off the album, and though it is one of my favorites (and likely the best black and white video ever to air on VH1), it was ignored by radio. After hearing this song, I knew that radio was going to lose out, and I started looking for music on the outside. Credit this music with my future independent conversion if you must, it urged me to find the music that tends to miss the mainstream anyway.
But “Walking In Memphis” does not sum up this album. “Ghost Train”, which features my favorite lyric ever. “Now baby’s got that bottle / filled with lightning and rain / He keeps calling out for someone / But she’s riding on a train . . .” And then there’s “Silver Thunderbird”, a piano track that speaks of his father, who drove the silver thunderbird, a talisman of sorts. Try to catch yourself singing “Don’t give me no Buick / Son you must take my word / If there’s a God in heaven / He drives a silver Thunderbird / You can keep your El Dorado / And the foreign car’s absurd / Me I want to go down / In a silver Thunderbird.” It will happen, I guarantee it.
There’s “Walk On Water”, a series of character sketches of people each waiting for their personal miracle. “Saving The Best For Last” is a taxi-driver’s lament about the world and his worth as a man. And there’s plenty more on top of that, enough to make this your favorite every time you listen. It gets my five star seal of approval, that’s for sure.
Would you like to be featured as an album review in an upcoming issue? I can only accept a few requests, as I do have a life and classes to attend to. Please email [email protected] and I’ll get in touch with you. The one requirement is that you send me a CD. I don’t think that’s too much, do you?