Steven Page leaves Barenaked Ladies

Even though it seems like Barenaked Ladies has run its course, the news that lead singer Steven Page has left the band is still a little surprising.

Singer-guitarist Steven Page said a big reason he decided to leave the Barenaked Ladies was he felt his songwriting voice was occasionally being squeezed out as a result of being in a five-member band.

A day after he announced on the band’s Web site that he was leaving the group, Page said the Barenaked Ladies has so many songwriting voices that he’s looking forward to a future as a solo artist.

“Frankly, the band itself was a five-way democracy and one of the great things about it is that it’s been about the five-way collaboration, but it’s also one of the things that’s made me decide to be a solo artist,” he said Thursday.

BNL just seemed like one of those bands that would be together forever.

Stevie Wonder at the White House

With Barack Obama in the White House, we have a president who doesn’t go to bed at 9:30 with a glass of warm milk. President Obama and Michelle Obama like to have fun, and Stevie Wonder rocked the White House the other night.

The East Room of the White House, normally a place for staid presidential news conferences and other Washington happenings, was switched into a nightclub Wednesday night as Stevie Wonder stepped inside and rocked the house.

Wonder was the winner of The Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize, which was bestowed on him by President Obama.

In a celebration to be broadcast on PBS Thursday night, Wonder serenaded the first couple, kicking things off with a version of “Sir Duke” and later Wonder classics like “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Superstition.”

But the night was also a tribute to Wonder. Tony Bennett, Paul Simon, and Martina McBride all paraded though, each with their own rendition of Wonder’s hits.

President Obama and Michelle Obama, in an elegant emerald gown, along with Vice President Biden and his wife Jill, took in the show from the front row.

Good stuff.

Wild Light: Adult Nights

Not many rock bands come out of New Hampshire – and even fewer manage to score deals with labels as major as Sony – so it’s hard not to root for Wild Light on principle alone; unfortunately, principle may be all that gets you through chunks of Adult Nights, the quartet’s full-length debut. The band has an interesting sound that wobbles between Semisonic and Arcade Fire – and the latter comparison is one you’re likely to hear more than once, given that keyboard player Tim Kile was in an early version of that band – but they need better material. Nights lets you know they’ve got the chops – opener “California on My Mind” kicks things off right, with its harmonica, stomping beat, and repeated refrain of “fuck California,” and “Call Home” is a lovely piano-led ballad that recalls Dan Wilson before he gave in to his Carole King fetish – but those high points only serve to underscore just how ordinary the rest of the disc can be. There aren’t any bad songs here, but there are a lot of well-meaning musical exercises in search of hooks, not to mention varying tempos – much of Adult Nights glides by at the same middling pace. If we were living in a different era, it wouldn’t be out of the question to hope Wild Light’s A&R rep stuck with the label long enough to shepherd the band through a few more albums until they were ready for their big break. Those days are long gone, unfortunately, but if they get lucky enough to reach a broad audience with Adult Nights, it also isn’t out of the question to imagine that this band could develop into something really special. (Columbia/StarTime International 2009)

Wild Light MySpace page

Justin Townes Earle: Midnight at the Movies

Here’s something to make you feel older than dirt, Steve Earle fans: Not only is Earle’s son a grown-up singer/songwriter in his own right, but he’s releasing his second album on March 3 – and he already sounds as weary and worldly wise as his old man did on 1996’s I Feel Alright. But don’t look to the elder Earle’s music for points of reference when listening to Midnight at the Movies – like his old man, Justin Townes Earle doesn’t boast a classically strong set of pipes, but his voice is clearer and his songs generally better-kempt than his dad’s, wobbling just a little more gracefully down the line between rock and country. What the album sounds a lot like, actually, is the Replacements’ All Shook Down, only with slightly more consistent songs – a similarity brought into relief by Earle’s sleepy cover of the ‘Mats classic “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Earle also kinda-sorta covers the standard “John Henry” here, but for the most part, these songs are self-penned, and they stand up to the best that AAA/alt-country has to offer. Never mind the sophomore jinx – Earle sounds like he’s been at this forever, and might have enough stories in his guitar case to keep on rolling for a lifetime. If you’re a fan of the genre, Midnight at the Movies is not to be missed. (Bloodshot 2009)

Justin Townes Earle MySpace page

Paul McCartney: Amoeba’s Secret

At age 66, Macca’s more prolific than ever, releasing new records on a regular basis, coming clean with his guise of the Fireman and still touring consistently. So it’s not enough that he should make the compulsory Grammy showing; he can also appear at a more intimate venue that’s generally reserved for up-and-comers. Consequently, this four song set, recorded live in 2007 at the Amoeba record store in L.A., reminds us he’s still a mere mortal, capable of rocking a small crowd with offerings both old and new. Vibrant versions of “That Was Me” and “Only Mama Knows” from his then-current album, Memory Almost Full, cast aside doubts about Paul’s present ability to deliver on a memorable melody. “I Saw Her Standing There” provides the inevitable nod to nostalgia with a rollicking rendition would have us believe that indeed, 45 years have passed in the blink of an eye. The sound quality, which veers towards bootleg variety, makes for a minor complaint, but the choice to include “C Moon,” one of McCartney’s lamer attempts, ought to cause greater ire. On the other hand, the fact that Ringo was in the house and wasn’t asked to join in seems the biggest bummer of all. (Hear Music)

Paul McCartney website

Reel Big Fish: Fame, Fortune and Fornication

Covers are nothing new to Reel Big Fish. They gave A-ha’s “Take on Me” the full blown ska treatment, offered a doo wop version of “New York, New York” and reggaed Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” on past releases. In 2007, they joined with Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer in splitting an EP of covers and offering co-lead vocals on each other’s tracks on the tremendous Duet All Night Long. Fame does make you smile because Aaron Barrett and his merry band of nuts are as funny as they are talented, but if falls short of Duet because too much of it is simply ska versions of very familiar material. They do sound like they are having fun (as they always do), but these versions lack the fire and enthusiasm that the Duet record captures. Highlights of this quick-hitting 30-minute record, which features covers of Poison (two, actually), Van Morrison, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty, include a reggae-soaked take on the Eagles’ “The Long Run” and the minimalist duet between Barrett and Tatiana DeMaria (from the Rock/Punk outfit Tat) on Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me,” which is comprised of a rhythm guitar track, handclaps and an excellent and understated vocal performance. Fame has its moments and is more like an after dinner mint then a meal. (Rock Ridge Music)

Reel Big Fish MySpace page

Jim Brickman: Ultimate Love Songs – The Very Best of Jim Brickman

Counting compilations, the ballad-loving pianist Jim Brickman has released an astounding 22 albums since 1994, all of them virtually indistinguishable from one another to anyone not cursed with a bottomless thirst for treacle and a superhuman tolerance for schmaltz. Album number 22, Ultimate Love Songs: The Very Best of Jim Brickman, collects some of Brickman’s best-known collaborations with vocalists, adds four new tracks for good (?) measure, and even tacks on a wonderful liner notes essay from Brickman himself (“My songs calm the frenzy, and wrap the listener in a soothing blanket of melody”). If you’re a fan of early ‘90s adult contemporary music, Ultimate Love Songs is a veritable feast for the ears, featuring Martina McBride, Michael W. Smith, Collin Raye, and many others (oh yes, There Will Be Bolton) – but if you’ve got any sort of affection for rock music, then listening to this album will make you want to die. It’s just one hokey love song after another, many of them performed by cornpone country singers well past their commercial prime (two notable exceptions: Wayne Brady, whose vocals on “Beautiful” will make you wish a bitch had choked him, and Jane Krakowski of “30 Rock). It’s calculated, connect-the-dots stuff that all sounds pretty much the same, and a little of it goes an awfully long way – but if you’re one of Brickman’s many, many fans, it’ll give you another soothing blanket of melody to cuddle up under until Album 23 comes along. (Time Life 2009)

Jim Brickman MySpace page

The Damnwells: One Last Century

For Alex Dezen, who for all intents and purposes, IS The Damnwells, to release an entire album for free download on the Paste Magazine website was a stroke of genius. It’s not like the guy isn’t already revered in sub-radar pop/rock circles, but now he’s given those in said circles every reason to preach the gospel of the Damnwells to anyone who will, you know, damn well listen, and for them to spread the word with no repercussions of piracy. But by no means is One Last Century devalued, nor is it a bunch of crappy B-side recordings that Dezen dug up from his basement. It’s more of the same brilliant melodic, heartfelt and smartly arranged songs we’ve come to expect, a continuation of sorts from 2006’s Air Stereo. He only wanted to release this one for free a) because he wants more people to discover the band, b) because today’s economy makes free stuff attractive, and c) because he can. On One Last Century, you’ve got the gamut that runs from sugary pop (“Bastard of Midnight” or “55 Pictures”) to beautiful acoustic (“Soundtrack” or “Say”) to riveting mid-tempo (“Like It Is” or “WWXII”). Go ahead, try and find something you don’t like here – you won’t find a better value anywhere. (LABEL: Paste Magazine)

The Damnwells MySpace page

Link to Download One Last Century for Free

Company of Thieves: Ordinary Riches

If Edie Brickell was a little more of a rocker – and had a strong literary fetish – she might sound like Genevieve Schatz, lead singer of Chicago’s Company of Thieves. By dint of steady touring and strong Windy City support, the band managed to turn its 2007 debut, Ordinary Riches, into a DIY success – one which Wind-Up is now seeking to take national with its licensing deal for the record, a deal that includes heavy promotion on iTunes and the talk show circuit, as well as a string of dates opening for labelmates Thriving Ivory. Whether the big push is a result of the label’s belief in the band or simply a function of a typically weak first-quarter release schedule, it’s still a remarkably lucky break for Company of Thieves; the band’s music is enjoyable enough, but nowhere near as colorful as you might expect, given their penchant for quoting Oscar Wilde. Ordinary Riches contains elements of rock, blues, and folk, but major chunks of the record sound like nothing so much as a band marking time until a musical identity drops in its lap. Given enough opportunities, they may actually find one – songs like the closer, “Under the Umbrella,” hint at a sound that could rebuild the bridge between old-school AOR and Top 40 – but in the meantime, this is a fairly Ordinary debut. (Wind-Up 2009)

Company of Thieves MySpace page

Ume: Sunshower EP

Ume (pronounced…I have no clue) (Editor’s note: it’s pronounced Ooh-may) is an Austin-based alt-rock trio led by the impressive, alliteratively-named Lauren Langner Larson. She’s not full-on riot-grrl, but Larson has an edge to her voice, with a growling undertone constantly on the threat of bubbling over and taking control throughout their latest EP Sunshower. Her screams on the opening “East of Hercules” have echoes of Brody from the Distillers and Joan Jett; throaty, guttural and utterly powerful. What really makes her, and by extension Ume as a whole, stand out is Larson’s ability to go back and forth between her punk-rock growls and a more dominant melodic singing voice that wouldn’t be out of place on a Top 40 pop record. The music behind the bipolar vocals isn’t half bad either, and is equally manic in a Pixies loud-quiet-loud kind of way, but they do the loud parts better than the quiet ones. When they keep it mellow too long they suffer, and the full-on ballad title track sinks before it takes off because there’s no power or emotion to carry it. The other slow track on the album, “The Means,” works better because the restrained first half builds to an explosive second half where Larson is once again able to showcase her quality vocal chops. Ume released a full-length record back in 2005, and this far-too-short EP is evidence that they’re ready for another. (Hulga 2009)

Ume MySpace Page

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