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

Ellen

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

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