Bo Bice: 3

RIYL: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Marc Broussard

Bo Bice will forever be the guy who finished second to Carrie Underwood on Season 4 of “American Idol.” Many were outraged, thinking Bice had the goods and delivered the performances in the finale to merit winning it all. However, America voted for Underwood and the rest is history. It appears now that it was probably the correct long-haul decision, but that doesn’t mean Bice hasn’t made a nice career for himself. Now he’s back with his third effort, aptly titled 3, which is his debut on Saguaro Records, home to the likes of Patty Loveless and Lonestar. If you like straight-ahead country fried Southern rock, there isn’t much you won’t like about 3. It’s ten songs of shuffling, bluesy goodness, right from the first notes and horn hits of “Keep on Rollin’,” to the honky tonk, riff-infused “Coming Back Home” to the pretty balladry of “Wild Roses.” But there are a few tinges of mediocrity, too, most notably “Good Hearted Woman,” on which Bice seems to hover in a register too low for his vocal range; and “Long Road Back,” which is catchy enough but seems to drone on a bit. Still, Bo Bice keeps on rolling, and his songwriting seems to improve with each effort. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want Underwood’s money, but…(Saguaro Records 2010)

Bo Bice MySpace page

Allison Iraheta: Just Like You

RIYL: Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Fergie

If you follow “American Idol” at all, you know that Season 8 (2009) was all about Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, and maybe some of you know current country act Danny Gokey, who finished third. But usually the other finalists are less memorable or fade into oblivion over time. Not so with fourth place finisher Allison Iraheta, who turned 17 during Season 8 but never showed signs of being that young. This young woman is so full of spunk and charisma, and has rocker pipes that should keep her financially set for a long time. Iraheta’s debut on Simon Fuller’s 19 Recordings/Jive, Just Like You, is one of those formula fests as pop/rock albums go – in other words, guys like Mitch Allan and David Hodges (Evanescence) were brought in to write with Allison, who winds up sounding more like Pink than anyone else. And if you’re into Pink, there is nothing wrong with that at all. Of course, some of this stuff is borderline annoying, like the Fergie-ish first two tracks, “Friday I’ll Be Over You” and “Robot Love.” But it gets better from there, starting with the powerful anthem of a title track, and later on with two of the best songs that somehow got buried here, piano ballad “Trouble Is,” and “No One Else,” (ironically co-written by Pink and “Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi), which is reminiscent of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best.” Come to think of it, Iraheta certainly has Turner elements in her voice, and that’s really saying something. No fading into oblivion here, just a really bright future. (19 Recordings/Jive 2009)

Allison Iraheta website

Jason Castro: The Love Uncompromised EP

RIYL: Amos Lee, Michael Tolcher, Daniel Powter

Good luck trying to compare former “American Idol” finalist Jason Castro to anyone, because dude is clearly blazing his own trail. At times, you’ll hear elements of the artists listed above, and in the opening track of Castro’s The Love Uncompromised EP, he even channels Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. When Castro was on “Idol,” he played the part of the jam band stoner hippie, and he played it well. But one thing everyone knew about Castro was that, as Randy Jackson would say, he could “really sing, dawg.” And that remains the case today, but even better is the fact that Castro writes some nice, memorable songs that do not seem forced. The opener, “Let’s Just Fall in Love Again,” is acoustic and has some corny lyrics about falling “disgustingly” in love, but after that the fully produced fare is melodic with nice rhythmic arrangements – especially “Love Uncompromised,” which has a sort of reggae feel, and the bouncy “If I Were You.” But the best track of all is the riveting ballad, “Sweet Medicine,” which has the tenderness and soul of some of Amos Lee’s best material. The EP will leave fans wanting more, and that’s okay because this one is only available digitally and at Castro’s shows, but the full-length will be out this spring. Sometimes former “Idol” hopefuls tank, and sometimes they soar – and Jason Castro has the goods to be in the latter category. (Atlantic 2010)

Jason Castro’s website

Musical genius Ellen DeGeneres named new “American Idol” judge


Since Paula Abdul left “American Idol,” the show has used fill-in judges like Victoria Beckham and Mary J. Blidge in the interim. With the new season coming up, the producers have found a permanent replacement, and you may have heard of her. Ellen DeGeneres will take Paula Abdul’s place as the fourth judge when the show’s ninth season premiers next year.

Hopefully, I’m the people’s point of view because I’m just like you,” DeGeneres said on her syndicated talk show Thursday. “I sit at home and I watch it, and I don’t have that technical … I’m not looking at it in a critical way from the producer’s mind. I’m looking at it as a person who is going to buy the music and is going to relate to that person.”

DeGeneres’ hiring as the show’s fourth judge all but seals the departure of Abdul, the original third judge who announced she was quitting amid a contract dispute in July.
Abdul had served as judge alongside Cowell and Jackson since the show’s debut in 2002. Producers shook up the franchise last season by adding songwriter DioGuardi as a fourth judge.

“American Idol” has been our country’s most popular show for some time now. That being said, it’s impossible to escape the news of who’s won, who’s feuding, etc. If I remember correctly, I did watch the entire first season. In theory, the show’s premise is a great. The American public isn’t voting on which contestant is the best songwriter or musician, but who is the most talented singer. These winners aren’t going to go on to compose great music, but will merely be the voice heard over songs written by professional songwriters working for a specific label. This isn’t a new idea at all — it’s existed since the days of Motown.

Nevertheless, Ellen DeGeneres is a perfect fit. The people watching don’t care, or really understand, what justification Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Kara DioGuardi are using to make their critiques. They certainly have more musical experience and knowledge then Ellen DeGeneres, but are people tuning in because of the pure musicality of the show? No, they’re tuning because they want entertainment, and that’s what DeGeneres brings to the table.

Watching all the Beatles content on VH1 has just further enhanced the fact that today’s popular music is generally horrible. Even the weaker bands that existed in their day were better than the stuff currently topping the charts. I was having a conversation with a friend about this last night. The Beatles were the first time the public and music purists got it right on such a large scale. Everybody agreed and reaped the benefits. Now, while Kelly Clarkson and Daughtry have hit singles, musical nerds like myself have to dig and dig to find new musicians worth our time. More often than not, I get too frustrated, and simply put Abbey Road on my record player.

Taylor Hicks: The Distance

It seems like a lifetime ago that Taylor Hicks was being crowned the champion of “American Idol” in its fifth season back in 2006. And while America clearly fell in love with this gray-haired wonder, Simon Cowell didn’t get it and neither did many critics, but Hicks’ debut album went platinum anyway. And while yours truly was a big fan of the material on that debut, the same can’t be said for Hicks’ latest, The Distance, released on his own Modern Whomp Records. There is no doubt this guy can sing with a trademark Joe Cocker-ish bluesy growl, but it’s pretty obvious that the recording budget was substantially less this time around, and the songs are mostly mediocre with performances at times reminiscent of cruise ship karaoke. Nevertheless, a few tracks do stand out, and Hicks is at his best when he tones things down for piano ballads – “What’s Right Is Right” and “Nineteen” are both heartfelt and destined for light rock radio repetition. And “Woman’s Got to Have It,” with fellow Idol alum Elliot Yamin, is a soulful and catchy closer. (LABEL: Modern Whomp)

Taylor Hicks MySpace Page

Ferras: Aliens & Rainbows

Ferras is the first name of a dude with a last name that’s hard to pronounce. Hence, the moniker. But let’s talk about his music, because Ferras’ debut, Aliens & Rainbows, is pure adrenaline-drenched pop driven by his own keyboard playing. Ferras got his big break much the same way Daniel Powter did a few years back, landing an “exit song” spot on “American Idol.” That song, “Hollywood’s Not America,” is not just perfect for the role — it’s a brutally honest yet powerful track in its own right. But Ferras, inspired by the likes of David Bowie and Elton John, uses his knack for melody equally well on rockers such as “Liberation Day” and “Blame, Blame, Blame” as he does on ballads like the title track, or the riveting “Take My Lips.” Ferras’ nasal tenor is closer to some of the Warped Tour vocal fare, but his music bears so much substance that you won’t mind. This is definitely an artist worth keeping on your radar, if he’s not on it already. (LABEL: Capitol)

Ferras MySpace page

Curtain Call: New Songs From Past American Idol Finalists: Volume 2

The first edition of this compilation of former “American Idol” contestants was pretty bad, and while Volume 2 is itself pretty bland, the songs as a whole are a little better this time around. This round of singers is also moderately talented, but you can’t listen to this album without feeling like you’re hearing glorified karaoke. Maybe it’s the production, maybe it’s the arrangements, or maybe it’s the talent compared to everything else being released in the pop world, but there is just something missing. Alaina Alexander from Season 6 delivers three tracks that probably won’t have you humming along, and her voice isn’t all that memorable either. Rudy Cardenas, also from last season, has three distinct styles on here — R&B/pop/Jason Mraz, rock, and sappy ballad — and the third one is so bad that it evens out the fact that the first two songs are pretty decent. Then there is Sarah Mather from Season 4, who has a decent enough voice, but the songs are only average. Finally, Gedeon McKinney chose to write all of his own material, which was not a good idea. McKinney’s material is very amateurish, and brought the rating of this whole set down a full half-star. So we’re halfway with these four Volumes, and by this time next year, it’s likely that you’ll all have forgotten about these four singers from Volume 2 the same way you did when their seasons on “Idol” ended. (LABEL: Artists Addiction/Rocket Science)


American Idol: America Wises Up

Just when I was fearing the worst, America stepped up its game last night much the way the “American Idol” finalists stepped up theirs on Tuesday night. They got it right for a change.

It kicked off with another awful group number, Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5.” Can someone please stick a fork in these group numbers? They are just, um, not very entertaining. That’s too nice…they are bordering on pure agony, okay?

Anyway, straight to business. Michael Johns, safe. David Archuleta, safe. Carly…a moment of Ryan Seacrest making her dangle, then safe. Commercial break….and oddly enough, Syesha Mercado was in this commercial for some technical institute, and I did a double take…like maybe it was one of those “Saturday Night Live” commercials, but it was real! She is, after all, an actress when she isn’t a finalist on the biggest show in America.

Then they took some callers, and the best question was when some woman asked Simon why he apologizes after criticizing someone. Simon smiled and replied “I like you!”

Then the Clark Brothers performed…these kids have some mad skills on their instruments, but that singer is scary….like he was shouting the entire song.

Okay, back to what we came here for….David Cook, safe, after he assured America that his hospital visit the night before was purely precautionary and that it was blown out of proportion. Dude has high blood pressure is all. Ramiel, Bottom 3. Hooray, America knows what it’s doing! Kristy Lee Cook, who held a piece of paper that said “Bottom 3,” practically willed herself there, and she was right. Wow, America, nice work.

Then they did some profiles of Idol alum from Nashville, since Dolly Parton was the theme of this week. Bucky Covington, Phil Stacey and Bo Bice were each featured, and are all having nice little careers after the show. I know Carrie Underwood is a mega-star right now, but I still think Bo was ROBBED.

Syesha, safe, which meant Brooke or Jason. Jason, safe, Brooke to the Bottom 3. So it was down to Ramiel, Kristy and Brooke. But first Dolly Parton performed her new single, “Jesus and Gravity.” If you don’t like Dolly Parton, there is seriously something wrong with you….she is one of the most infectiously happy performers I’ve ever seen, and she spreads that to the audience.

Okay, finally the grueling hour was coming to a close. Brooke, back to safety…..holy crap, America is smart! Mrs. Mike had predicted Ramiel earlier in the hour, and she has not been wrong yet. And she’s still not wrong…Kristy, safe, Ramiel, you’re outta here. You know, she has a nice voice but this competition is heating up and she just doesn’t have the mad skills of some of the others remaining.

Here are my power rankings:

1. David Cook
2. David Archuleta
3. Michael Johns
4. Brooke White
5. Carly Smithson
6. Syesha Mercado
7. Jason Castro
8. Kristy Lee Cook

I still like Brooke more than Carly, though America may not agree….but hey, that’s why they play the games. See you all next week…

American Idol: Welcome To Dollywood

So after dumbass host Ryan Seacrest told America that “American Idol” was being postponed due to some writer’s strike, pulling a fairly predictable April Fool’s joke, it was on to business. For a split second though, I forgot it was April 1, and thought “Awesome, I can go back to watching the Mets/Marlins game,” but no dice.

The mentor this week was Dolly Parton, and the remaining nine contestants were asked to sing something from Dolly’s catalog. This could go a few different ways for these singers, and you might expect just a few of them to do well. But what happened was that many of them stepped up their game, some in surprising fashion. Here we go….


David Cook came clean before his performance, saying that some of his previous arrangements Read the rest of this entry »

American Idol: Ramiel Hangs On

Remember how bad Ramiel was on “American Idol” Tuesday? Remember how I wrote yesterday that she was just about a lock to go home? Well, she wasn’t even in the bottom 3 in last night’s results show. I know there are always surprises, but geez. Anyway, here is how the show went down.

30 million votes, blah blah blah. Group song, blah blah blah. Recap of Tuesday, blah blah blah.

Chikezie, bottom 3….I didn’t think he was all that bad but apparently America did. Brooke White, safe. Carly Smithson, safe. Then a break, blah blah blah.

David Archuleta, safe. David Cook , and we find out he didn’t arrange that cool version of “Billie Jean”…it was in fact Chris Cornell, who Ryan Seacrest had to mention called in to the show and said he loved Cook’s version of his version. Anyway, David, very safe. Syesha Mercado, Bottom 3. What? She was amazing on Tuesday, so America in my mind right now is not a great judge of talent. Michael Johns, safe.

“Idol Gives Back,” blah blah blah. Dolly Parton mentoring next week, blah blah blah.

Then Season 2′s Kimberly Locke performed her song, “Fall.” She looked great and has an incredibly powerfull voice, but this song was as bland as a plain potato. The music industry suits need to start letting real songs back in instead of formulaic crap, or it’s all going to blow up in their faces.

Then they took some phone calls….and this was pretty funny last night, as one of the callers asked Simon Cowell if he thought it would be easy for her to eventually take Ryan Seacrest’s job. Then another caller asked David Archuleta why he picked that awful song, “You’re the Voice,” on Tuesday.
David claimed that it’s one of his favorite songs, and he was hoping he would get to perform it at some point. Um, dude, your musical taste is um, not very good.

Back to the results. Ramiel, safe. Here we go….I mean, she’s cute and all, and has a decent voice…but better than Syesha? No way. Did Danny Noriega call 5000 times to vote for his pal? Kristy Lee Cook, safe…and that was no surprise, because she really did a very smart thing by grabbing all the red state votes with “God Bless the U.S.A.” What’s that, Ryan Seacrest? Lee Greenwood also called in and said he loved it? Lee also says thank you for the royalty check. Oh, and if Dolly Parton is the mentor this coming week, can we assume country music theme? If so, Kristy just got another free pass. So it was Jason Castro in the bottom 3 along with Syesha and Chikezie, but he was almost instantly sent back to safety.

So down to Syesha and Chikezie. Mrs. Mike said Chikezie, and she said it as soon as he was sent to the bottom 3. Well, she has been right for 2 weeks in a row, so no reason to doubt her, and she called it AGAIN. So no more Chikezie on Idol, but I know this guy is going to find a recording niche as a young Luther Vandross type.

So now, my power rankings for the remaining nine:

1. David Cook
2. David Archuleta
3. Brooke White
4. Michael Johns
5. Carly Smithson
6. Syesha Mercado
7. Jason Castro
8. Ramiel Mallubay
9. Kristy Lee Cook

There you go….eight more weeks of Idol, or maybe nine if you include “Idol Gives Back”…remember, last year no one was eliminated on that show. See you next week, I’m going back to watching the NCAA tournament tonight.

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