Yo Gabba Gabba: Music Is…Awesome! Volume 2


RIYL: hipster bands, watching your kids dance

Landing a cool 10 months after the release of Volume I of Yo Gabba Gabba’s Music Is…Awesome! series, this set rights some of the wrongs of that first album by including some of the bands they overlooked the last time (Jimmy Eat World, MGMT, Datarock, and thank God they finally released the Ting Tings’ cover of “Happy Birthday”). The catch with this set is that the songs by the contributing rock bands are much better, but the songs from the show are, well, not. Yes, “Hold Still” finally makes an appearance, but it’s the lesser of the two versions that have appeared on the show. Meanwhile, the “Freeze Game” song here does not measure up to the ‘you can’t catch us!’ ‘Freeze’ song from another episode. (Perhaps they chose the version they did so they didn’t have two songs that featured Brobee whining about not being able to keep up.) Alas, the Aggrolites’ song “Banana” is still nowhere to be found, nor is GOGO13′s song “Pick It Up” which, years after their debut on the show, are still the two most commonly sung “Yo Gabba Gabba” songs in this writer’s household. Their exclusion from these sets is bordering on comical, if it weren’t so tragic. Still, the Weezer song (“All My Friends Are Insects”) is great, as are the songs by Hot Hot Heat (“Time to Go Outdoors”) and the Apples in Stereo (“That’s My Family”). In the end the album, much like the show, has some moments of genius, surrounded by stuff that you merely tolerate for the sake of your kids. No excuses, guys: put “Pick It Up” and “Banana” on the next set, or there will be hell to pay. (Filter 2010)

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The Black Crowes: Croweology


RIYL: Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses, Derek & the Dominoes, The Derek Trucks Band

The Black Crowes are going on hiatus in 2011 and already delivered a great new double album with last year’s Before the Frost… Until the Freeze combo. You can always count on these guys to mix things up, though. So instead of issuing a standard greatest hits package to tour behind, Croweology finds the band delivering newly recorded acoustic versions of two albums’ worth of material. The songs run the gamut from classic hits to deep album cuts. There aren’t as many rarities as one might hope for, but there’s a strong variety of material, some cool new arrangements and some great jams that are unusual for studio albums.

The set opens with a pretty standard rendition of “Jealous Again,” but this is the song that put the band on the map, so it’s an appropriate opener. But a new arrangement of “Share the Ride” demonstrates how the band is out to try some new things. The beat is based on a drum machine and hand claps, which make for a particularly funky groove. Guitarists Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson throw down some great six-string interplay here and put on a clinic throughout the album for how two-guitar bands should operate.

“Non-Fiction” takes on a more majestic aura, while “Hotel Illness” smokes with some extra bluesy harmonica and a back yard sort of vibe. “Wiser Time” – perhaps the band’s ultimate jam vehicle – features more superb guitar interplay on a stellar spacey jam. “Cold Boy Smile” is the only previously unreleased tune and features a mystical type of intro jam that recalls the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” before shifting into more of a Crowesy blues vibe with Chris Robinson offering some of his most heartfelt vocals. “Under a Mountain,” a barnburner on the band’s underrated Three Snakes and One Charm, receives a new arrangement that transforms the song into Led Zeppelin IIIterritory with gorgeous results. And that’s all just on disc one.

“She Talks to Angels” kicks off disc two and features some extra fiddle that gives the song an Americana flavor. “Morning Song” is one of the shining gems of the set with its warm groove, sparkling slide guitar and more of that backyard honky-tonk rock vibe. It’s also got a great hand-clap breakdown jam in middle with Chris singing about how “music got to free your mind.” “Downtown Money Waster” is another highlight with some great banjo and fiddle that make for a fresh, higher energy arrangement. “Thorn in My Pride” – the band’s other supreme jam vehicle – receives deluxe treatment as the band blends their Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead and Clapton influences together for another stellar jam on this perennial fan fave.

The entire set features a slew of subtle embellishments that feel like fresh paint strokes on classic art work, just little enhancements that ring with tasty new flavor. The CD version also tries to keep the old school album vibe alive with beautiful psychedelic fonts and a picture inside that turns into a pop-up book with two crows sitting by a campfire in the forest, smoking a spliff while some purple mushrooms grow nearby. It all enhances the band’s classic rock vibe that is sadly all too rare these days. (Silver Arrow Records 2010)

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Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier


RIYL: Dream Theatre, Savatage, Queensryche

Looking for another set of covers by an established act? How about a band looking to completely re-invent itself by offering up Bossa Nova versions of its classics (Rundgren did it in 1997 on With a Twist)? That ain’t happening here. Iron Maiden offers up 76 minutes of progressive metal, professionally and unapologetically on the very good The Final Frontier. The shortest track is 4:29, two tracks are slightly over 5:19 and the rest are in the six-to-11-minute range. Frontier has the necessary Maiden ingredients; song titles like “The Alchemist” and “The Talisman,” theatrical vocalizations by Bruce Dickinson, the monster guitar work, the rolling, rumbling bass lines and the kinetic drumming of Nico McBrain.

This is a 2010 release but sounds like a classic. With a loose galactic theme running throughout, Dickinson really lets it fly with his best vocal performance on “Coming Home.” That track joins Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or Planet P’s “Why Me?” in the pantheon of great space pilot songs. One wonders how Dickinson just doesn’t collapse because he sounds as if he puts everything he has in every note. He doesn’t have the vocal pop of Geoff Tate or Rob Halford, but he certainly makes up for it with passion and a delivery that lets it loose at the very edge of his range. As usual, the guitar work – and there is plenty of it as the keyboards are very subtle – from Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers is terrific, coming up with small nuances and solos making the material sound fresh and never tired. The first four minutes of dissonance and drum work from McBrain on “Satellite 15…The Final Frontier” grabs the listener by the throat before breaking into a fabulous rolling metal tune. Several of the songs set up with a slower, more methodical beginning, before the guitars soar and Dickinson’s starts to extend his voice. Maiden’s Frontier is full of delicious progressive work which demonstrates there is plenty of gas left in the old warhorses’ tank. (Columbia Legacy 2010)

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Goo Goo Dolls: Something for the Rest of Us


RIYL: Bryan Adams, The Plimsouls, Richard Marx

61luGSOu-WL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1] The Goo Goo Dolls have, at this point, been an adult contemporary recording act longer than they were Buffalo’s answer to the Replacements, so the time has probably come to stop using each new album as an excuse to whine about how much cooler they used to be, and lament what might have been if only Superstar Car Wash had been a hit. At this point, everybody knows exactly what they’re going to get from a Goos record, and if you’re looking to the fellows who brought you “Iris” for hungover blue-collar rock, well…that’s your problem, not theirs.

What we have with Something for the Rest of Us, then, is what sounds like – please, Lord, let it be – the final step in the Goos’ decade-long sanding down of their old sound. They’ve been inching this direction since they released Dizzy Up the Girl in 1998; 2002′s Gutterflower and 2006′s Let Love In were each slightly slicker, duller versions of what came before them, and Something out-slicks and out-snoozes them all. According to John Rzeznik, the more tuneful Goo with the Bon Jovi pout, the songs on this album are supposed to address the trying times we’re living in, but if there’s any topicality here, it’s so buried in snuggly layers of radio-ready gloss that it hardly matters.

When it comes to the Goo Goo Dolls, all that matters anymore is the ratio of sweeping Rzeznik power ballads (ten) to slightly punkier, slightly snottier Robby Takac rockers (two), and how soothing/vaguely dramatic it’ll sound in your car while you’re driving home from a long day of answering phones or filling out spreadsheets (very). There isn’t a line, chord, or cymbal crash that will change your life, or hit you anywhere but the soft, nougaty part of your cerebral cortex where you hide your secret affection for Lifehouse and Three Doors Down. It’s a very boring album, in other words, but who needs excitement? Excitement is messy, and it doesn’t have Rzeznik’s artfully tousled hair. (Warner Bros. 2010)

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Paul Manousos: C’mon C’mon


RIYL: Tom Petty, Mick Jagger, Paul Westerberg

San Francisco Bay Area troubadour Paul Manousos is back with his third solo album, on which he continues to distill a seasoned approach to rootsy rock and blues. Manousos has a voice that oozes classic rock, at times recalling such legends as Mick Jagger, Tom Petty and even Otis Redding. The talent is definitely there. But this album isn’t likely to make much of an impact due to how it’s filled with too many slow songs, mysteriously camouflaging Manousos the rocker.

Opening track “Getting Better” is an exception, a mid-tempo rock number that holds much promise. Things slow down on “Outside of Town,” a soulful tune where Manousos does some fine crooning. This is cool too, but the album eventually becomes too heavily weighted in this direction. “One Eye Open” is an upbeat mid-tempo rocker that lifts spirits and sounds like a cross between early ’70s Stones and modern Texas troubadour Ryan Bingham.

The rest of the album is filled with heartfelt vocals, but not much rock. “R.E.D.” is an acoustic tune with some bluesy harmonica, while “Kindly Said” offers a stripped-down romantic ballad. “The Way You…” features some bluesy riffs, but it’s yet another slow tune. A cover of Glen Campbell/Jimmy Webb number “Wichita Lineman” is a well done romantic lament, but again seems to show that Manousos is more into the country-ish flavor than the rock these days. “Getting Out” is deep bluesy cut that sounds like a soundtrack song from a cool noir flick, with some fuzzy guitar and swirly organ. “Long Long Way Back Home” closes it out with a mercifully rocking tune that sounds kind of like a lost Heartbreakers song.

Manousos does the whiskey-soaked bluesy balladeer thing very well but the lack of sonic diversity here will probably prevent this album from taking off. It seems like he’s doing himself a disservice by pigeonholing his sound in this narrow direction, which is hard to understand if you’ve seen him rock out live. (Shock & Fall Recordings 2010)

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