Morel: The Death of the Paperboy

Morel is an acclaimed remix artist who as worked with Pink, Depeche Mode, Cyndi Lauper and about a dozen or so other platinum artists. He’s also well known in house music circles for his club singles and his work with the dance music duo Deep Dish. But his career as a solo artist has been noticeably less successful, and The Death of the Paperboy probably isn’t going to change that. Too much of this album has Morel going away from his strengths, and experimenting with ballads and rock-driven pop songs. It occasionally works; “Anymore, Anymore” sounds like some fabulous combination of Erasure and Oasis, and the upbeat “Flawed” sounds like Hot Fuss-era Killers with a dozen or more synthesizers plugged in, but for the most part it all straddles the line into either generic dance music or down-tempo electronic pop. But let’s be honest, Morel makes music predominately for (gay) club play, and there are a few songs here that work great in that regard. But if that doesn’t interest you, then there is no reason to even glance at The Death of the Paperboy. (Outsider Music 2008)

Morel’s MySpace Page

Rod Stewart: The Definitive Rod Stewart

He is without question one of the most gifted singers in rock history, but there’s something depressing about The Definitive Rod Stewart; granted, 15 of the songs on this two-CD/one-DVD set were Top 10 hits, yet one can’t help but think that Stewart has spent the majority of his career squandering his talent, hit singles be damned. Fans will point to his versatility, but it’s more like bandwagon jumping, from mellow gold to disco to new wave to the inevitable unplugged session (his mining of the Great American Songbook, thankfully, is not included here). To his credit, Rod could sell ice to the Eskimos, which is why “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and “Infatuation” were such massive hits. Warner Bros. definitely picked all of the right songs for this set – though we would have included anything else from his catalog, even his cover of Free’s “All Right Now,” if it meant the exclusion of “Love Touch” – and the inclusion of a DVD featuring a bunch of his promotional videos is a nice plus. But the fact that this is Stewart’s definitive work is more damning than cause for celebration. (Warner Bros.)

Rod Stewart MySpace page

Enya: And Winter Came…

Actual conversation between two Bullz-Eye staffers:

Writer #1: Isn’t Enya’s new album a holiday album?
Writer #2: Aren’t they all holiday albums?

It was only meant as a joke, of course, but there is a kernel of truth there as well. There is nothing on And Winter Came… that sounds any more or less Christmas-y than any of her other albums (save for the album’s closer, a version of “Silent Night” done in Irish), but Enya’s soundscapes do have a certain coldness to them that make them ideal wintertime listening. You’ve heard a few of these songs before in various incarnations – this album’s instrumental title track is a direct descendant to the instrumental title tracks on Watermark and Shepherd Moons – but a couple songs, namely “Trains and Winter Rains” and “My! My! Time Flies,” boast chord progressions and arrangements that suggest Enya’s a closet power pop fan, of all things. Heck, the latter song even has an honest to goodness guitar solo. It’s tempting to put Enya down for making the same album over and over, but it works, damn it. (Reprise)

Click to buy And Winter Came…

Guggenheim Grotto: Happy the Man

Their odd, ill-defined moniker aside, Guggenheim Grotto are a deeply emotive trio, hailing from Ireland but obviously adept at capturing universal sentiments, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. On this, their sophomore set, the group opts for gentle, dreamy melodies that reside midway between the arched anthems of Coldplay and the contemplative designs of the Beautiful South, capped by soaring refrains coupled with a distinct sense of wistful yearning. That’s especially true of “Her Beautiful Ideas,” perhaps the most torrid song about severed romance in recent memory, and “Sunshine Makes Me High,” which regales in sublime inspiration. Likewise, “Oh Nikita” glides on supple rhythms and a bittersweet plea, while “Just Not Just” provides a breezy lesson in unrequited love. Indeed, there’s a profound sense of desire that permeates the set as a whole, a hope for a passionate connection that remains just out of reach. “What has love in store for me,” they ask plaintively on the guardedly hopeful “Lost Forever And?,” a song that surmises the answer but reaches no definitive conclusion. Its title to the contrary, Happy the Man finds bliss an elusive ideal and optimism all the more difficult to cling to. (United for Opportunity)

Guggenheim Grotto MySpace page

Zealousy: Complications

Zealousy is another one of those groups that wants to marry dark theatrics to their pop tunes. That’s fine and all, but this has been done much better before with far greater appeal (think Fuji Minx, for instance). Vocalist Amarie Darvai hits all the notes effortlessly, but there’s something about the mix of opener “Girl on the Edge” that pushes everything into distortionland. The rest of the group plays facelessly behind her, which is fine because you get the feeling this is all really her show. “So I Am” tries to play it off strong-willed and tough, but really doesn’t have claws as long as it likes to think it does. When the band tries for somewhat lighter moments, such as on “Drop,” Darvai’s performance just overshadows the rest of the group. She could stand to hold back just a little at times. A song like “Chemical Imbalance” plays out as annoyingly as you might expect from a group like this. My advice is for Zealousy to find a better producer, and perhaps musicians who don’t constantly take the piss from Amarie’s delivery on every song. It’s okay to be heard as well, you know. Otherwise, these guys are just treading the average waters with a nondescript sound. Ho hum. (self-released)

Zealousy MySpace page

Jimmy Wayne: Do You Believe Me Now?

Every once in a while, some country artist and/or songwriter takes a chance on a song that doesn’t sound like everything else they release. Jimmy Wayne’s “Do You Believe Me Now?” the title track to his latest, and second album, is that song – essentially a great pop song sung with a twangy vocal and a lyrical theme that is left of center (guy sees the way other guy is looking at his girl, and fast-forwards to when he is the odd man out and the other guy has his girl now). Well, that, and the track is as catchy as anything you’ll ever hear. Read his bio, and you won’t help but feel for the guy, who once saw his stepfather shoot (and paralyze) his stepbrother’s wife and then attempt to kill Jimmy too when he was 15. But mostly this is a new country artist (who co-writes most of his material) armed with a solid album of hooky songs that reflect the variety of music his foster parents listened to – Hall & Oates, Alan Jackson, Iron Maiden among them. Other standouts are the breezy “I Will” and sultry semi-ballad “One on One.” With the title track recently hitting #1 on the country charts, the sky is the limit for Jimmy Wayne, and gives hope to some of the lesser-known but promising songwriting talent on Music Row. (Valory Music Co.)

Jimmy Wayne MySpace Page

Listing Ship: A Hull Full of Oil and Bone

Listing Ship specializes in writing nautically-themed folk songs and sea shanties. Sure, the audience for that may small, but specializing in a modernized version of a defunct musical genre worked well enough for the Dresden Dolls, so there’s no reason to knock it this time around. The level of nautical influence varies from track to track on A Hull Full of Oil and Bone. Some songs are traditional folk ballads, while others, like the crazy title track, sound like something you’d hear on Captain Ahab’s iPod (between Mastodon cuts) . It’s all a bit overpowering in its weirdness, but Listing Ship never take themselves too seriously, and that’s what saves them. Their cleverness is most abound in the perverse romantic ballad “Coal-Hearted Woman,” which begins as a Irish folk song between two lovers, before dropping the wonderfully obscene line “I’d like to sink my shaft in your soft Virginia hills,” followed by a chorus of “let me come inside.” Damn these are some nasty mother folkers! In case you haven’t already figured it out A Hull full of Oil and Bone isn’t for everyone, and unless you celebrate National Talk Like a Pirate Day or attend Renaissance festivals, it probably isn’t going to be your thing. However, this is your thing, then you’ve probably just found your new favorite band. (Listing Ship 2008)

Listing Ship MySpace Page

Cosmic American Derelicts: Songs from the Homestead

This electric/acoustic bluegrass boogie band does an amicable job of throwing up some dust on their new nine-track release. “Sleepwalking Killer” gets things off to a good start with lickety-split rhythms, plenty of twanging guitars and a banjo thrown in for good measure. “Same Old” follows almost the same exact formula, except the acoustic guitars take front and center, and the drum sticks are given away for brushes, but the vibe is completely the same. “Barbed Wire Bed” finally steeps itself into rustic bluegrass Americana and ditches the electric guitars altogether, showing off the pure, raw talents of this group. Other tracks that try for the more pop country format, like “Dollar Bill Blues” don’t suit the band as well. Ditto that for the corny clichéd lyrical pursuits of “Drink You off My Mind.” And, well, the closing “Rocktopus” really doesn’t fit at all with the rest of the album. Too bad, because the first half of this disc really is good. When these guys stray from the bluegrass trappings, though, they lose it all over the place.(self-released)

Cosmic American Derelicts MySpace page

Great Big Sea: Fortune’s Favour

Newfoundland’s finest return for their 10th album, this time with producer Hawksley Workman in tow, and though nothing on Fortune’s Favour is unexpected – the band long ago got its act down to a science, if not an art – none of it disappoints, either. Since making its American “breakthrough” in the mid-to-late ‘90s, Great Big Sea has occasionally seemed unsure of which direction to follow – some sets found them tilting a little too heavily toward the pop end of the spectrum at the expense of the trad-folk elements of their sound that make them so unique – but as their U.S. sales have dwindled over the last five or six years, their focus has improved, and this album is as sure-footed as anything they’ve released since Turn. It does present a somewhat mellower picture of the band than some longtime fans may be comfortable with, but that’s appropriate; Great Big Sea’s music has always played on the tension between love of home and love of the road, and if their songs get sweeter and softer with age, it’s probably only par for the course. The album is bookended with a pair of killer cuts (“Love Me Tonight,” “Straight to Hell”), and manages to get through 14 tracks without ever really sagging in between. A no-frills DVD of studio footage is thrown in as a value-added bonus, but unless your idea of fun is watching the band fart around between takes, there’s no reason to buy this other than the music – and thankfully, it’s more than strong enough to stand on its own. (Great Big Sea 2008)

Great Big Sea MySpace page

Leo: Leo

This export from Sweden may have a hard time finding wide acceptance over here in the States. There’s something about the three songs on this debut EP that just doesn’t seem to translate well over the speakers. Leo Nielsen’s voice is fine and strong enough, but he seems to be squandering his talents on overdone performances. The first track here, “Let Go (John’s Song)” is a dramatically sappy piece of pop vocalizing, and by the time it’s all over, Leo’s pleading may have you ripping your hair out. “Don’t Ask” really pushes the meters into the red, while Nielsen’s voice misses many notes consistently, while his own layered backing vocals continue to bring down the song. If ever you wanted to hear a guy really try way too hard, then this is your chance. On the other hand, “Fade” is syrupy enough that it seems like it would strike the right chord in the heart of a gal in her late teens. That’s not saying much, considering we already have enough of that kind of stuff (and far better, for that matter) already clogging the charts. (self-released)

Leo MySpace page

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