Seen Your Video: Sarah Darling, “Something to Do with Your Hands”

We have never been what one could call on the cutting edge of country music, but this clip was too cute to pass up. Say what you want about country music, but there is one thing that they have steadfastly held on to, and that is a desire to see clean-cut girls on their charts. Those girl next door types…they just do something to us. Beats the hell out of the strippers dominating the pop charts, that’s for sure.

Say hello to Sarah Darling, who hails from Iowa and could easily pass for Jane Krakowski’s little sister. The clip for her single “Something to Do with Your Hands” is delightfully simple and sweet – she looks for excuses to have her man “fix” things for her – and the chorus is earworm central, with the “uh uh oh” part serving as the ellipses to the opening line, “If you need something to do with your hands…” Message received, loud and clear. And while that would sound dirty in the hands of a more provocative artist, Sarah somehow makes it sound sweet, even though her man is getting lucky tonight. Strange double standard, but there you go.

Lastly, how nice it is to hear singers that aren’t hung up on melisma and vocal runs. Hmmm, maybe we should start listening to country more often. Ooh, and she covers vintage Elton John, too? Score.

Click to buy Angels and Devils from Amazon

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Senior Editor David Medsker’s picks

Having children has had a profound impact on my musical tastes. Will it make them cry? Will it teach them naughty words? Will it bore them? Then it doesn’t get played around the house, which has resulted in my sharp turn towards the poppier side of modern. And really, once you’ve seen your three-year-old completely lose his shit when hearing a song with a chorus of “Na, na na na, na na na, na na na na na na na,” it’s hard to push anything on him that doesn’t come armed to the teeth with the pop hooks. Mind you, I think the Ramones are a pop band too, so I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here. But make no mistake – these bands are pop bands, of varying stripes and shapes. If you fancy yourself a hipster, you’d be best to move on and check out one of the other writers’ lists. I gave up being hip a couple years ago, and let me tell you: it’s extremely liberating.

Note: Some of the notes at the end of the write-ups will offer suggestions of which songs to check out. Others actually offer the songs. If you see “Click here for a free download…”, those songs are on our server, meaning you won’t be dragged off to some site that asks you to give up your email address for a song. These puppies all come with no strings attached, so please download away.

Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Mark Ronson: Record Collection
Ahhhhhh. If I get to heaven, this is what the radio station will sound like. Tasteful drum beats paired with even tastier synth tracks, highlighted by brilliantly chosen guest contributors from Q-Tip and D’Angelo to Simon Le Bon and a devastating performance by Boy George. Definitely gonna ride this bike until we get home.
Download these: “The Bike Song,” “Somebody to Love Me,” “Record Collection”

2. Hey Champ: Star
I’m a sucker for any band that justifies my love for New Order and the Buggles, and this Chicago trio threw down synth pop/rock that, in an ideal world, would have Passion Pit opening for them, not the other way around.
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Neverest”
Click here for a free download of Hey Champ’s “Cold Dust Girl”

3. Prefab Sprout: Let’s Change the World with Music
Man, what a sweet surprise this was. Originally scheduled to be the follow-up album to 1990′s Jordan: The Comeback, the album was scrapped despite Prefab leader Paddy McAloon already finishing studio-quality demo versions of every song. Eighteen years later, the songs finally see the light of day, and the result is instant nostalgia. He supposedly has dozens more albums on his shelves from the same period. Please don’t make us wait 18 years for the next one, Paddy.
Download these: “Let There Be Music,” “Ride,” “God Watch Over You”

4. The Hours: It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish
This one is knocked down a few rungs on a technicality, in that it’s a Franken-album consisting of the best songs from the band’s two UK-only releases. But hot damn, are those songs good. Shimmering, sky-high, piano-driven pop that addresses the darkness in people’s lives but strives for hope and change. No wonder Nike used one of these songs for their unforgettable “Human Chain” ad earlier this year. Favorite lyric: “I can understand how someone can go over to the dark side, ’cause the Devil, he’s got all the tunes.”
Download these: “See the Light,” “Big Black Hole,” “Come On”

The Hours – “See The Light” 2010 Edit from Adeline Records on Vimeo.

5. The Silver Seas: Chateau Revenge
I’m still pissed about this one. I got a sneak peek of the record months before its release because our publicist is tight with the band. We played the daylights out of it, and couldn’t wait to sing its praises when it came out in April…only April never happened. Then it was July, and when it came out, the damn thing was buried. Why, why, why? Not enough irony or cynicism? I see no reason why the Shins can sell millions while the Silver Seas still toil in obscurity. The phrase ‘criminally underrated’ was written about bands like this.
Click here for a free download of the Silver Seas’ “The Best Things in Life”


Read the rest after the jump...

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Ted Asregadoo’s picks

The days of getting lost in an album have passed me by. This year, I really tried to rekindle that lost listening art of playing entire albums – instead of compiling playlists in iTunes. It hasn’t been easy. I think the ease of digitally downloading albums has dried up the sense of anticipation that used to come with a purchase of a physical copy of an album at a record store. Now, the record store is just part of the millions and billions of distractions that await you on the Internet – much of it for free.

Now, I don’t mean to go on a diatribe against the devaluation of music because of the Internet, but one thing that has occurred because of the sheer plethora of music available with one click of your mouse is a kind of ADD when it comes to listening to music. My colleague both here and at Popdose (that would be Jeff Giles) has written about it more eloquently than I can, but the sentiment is very much the same: because of the volume of music that is available in downloadable form, it’s difficult for me to form a deep connection with an entire album. If we could flash back 20 years, it would have been a different story to feature 10 albums. Nowadays, it’s rare that an entire album can hold my attention.

But, never say never, right?

What you will find here are mostly my favorite songs of 2010, but occasionally you’ll find entire albums. I know, after all that “downloadable music is ruining my attention span” crap, I say that there were some albums that really captured my attention. But like I said, I’ve tried to rekindle the art of listening to entire albums, and while I feel I’m losing that battle, I haven’t entirely lost the war. So, here we go with my top 10 of 2010!

10. Paper or Plastic, “The Honest Man”
Every now and then a link arrives in my inbox that lives up to the hype. Case in point is the New York group, Paper or Plastic, who has a kind of Ben Folds thing going on with “The Honest Man.” The song is an example of some very lovely power pop, and you’ll find yourself humming the chorus after a few listens. The band is giving away their EP Ron Save the King on their website. Get it, if only for “The Honest Man.”

9. Somebody’s Darling, “Lonely”
In my review of this album, I was upfront about my allergy to country music – even if it’s alt-country. But Somebody’s Darling has enough rock-n-roll in them to make the musical waters safe for a guy with my particular affliction. “Lonely” is by far my favorite track on the album, and it’s not difficult to hear why. The song is just one big fireball of energy with a great driving beat and some wailing guitars. But it’s the full-throated vocals from Amber Ferris that takes this song from good to great.


Read the rest after the jump...

Bullz-Eye’s Best of 2010: Staff Writer Scott Malchus’ picks

Each year, when I sort through my favorite songs, I have trouble ranking them because each one has a different meaning to me. I always wind up creating a mixtape (or a playlist, for you younger readers) of those songs and arrange them so that the music flows like a great album or concert set. Without further ado, here’s my mix of the twenty songs I returned to for repeated listens throughout 2010.

“Fade Like a Shadow,” KT Tunstall
Tunstall continues to produce pop gems that are spirited, bright and full of life. This single from her latest, Tiger Suit, has everything you want in a single: a passionate delivery, a great melodic hook, and a unique rhythm that helps it stand out from other songs. A great way to kick off a mix tape.

“I Should Have Known It,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The lead single from Mojo has that vintage Petty snarl and bite. The rest of the album may be a mixed bag, but this great rocker builds to kick-ass guitar jam and stands up with some of their best.


Read the rest after the jump...

Leeroy Stagger: Everything Is Real


RIYL: Ryan Adams, Matthew Ryan, Gabe Dixon Band

There are times when you just have to marvel at all of the great music that continues to funnel down from Canada – well, minus Celine Dion. In Leeroy Stagger, here’s a guy who has been toiling away for the better part of a decade, aided by being brought on tour as support for Hot Hot Heat. Stagger’s latest, Everything is Real, was released in 2009 and released in the U.S. in 2010 on Brooklyn-based 2:59 Records. If you’re a fan of any of the artist’s listed above, digging Leeroy will come naturally – his music is hauntingly old-school yet has a twangy alternative bent that is fresh and modern. And Stagger has that same compelling vocal drawl that is perfect for movie soundtracks. But wait, the songs – there isn’t really a clunker on Everything is Real. There are some real gems too, like the stunning mid-tempo “Sleep Alone” or the sing-along “Stormy.” Stagger also knows how to turn the volume way up, as on the blazing title track, which has a Ramones flavor; or how to turn it way down, as on the acoustic-driven “Snowing in Nashville.” If alt-country tends to be too country for you, and you like stuff that leans more “alt” with a hint of twang, then go check out Leeroy Stagger now. (2:59 Records 2010)

Leeroy Stagger MySpace Page

Darius Rucker: Charleston, SC 1966


RIYL: Radney Foster, Brad Paisley, Hootie & The Blowfish


Hootie & The Blowfish might have sold millions of copies of 1994′s Cracked Rear View album, but by the early part of the ’00s, they could barely pull a top-50 placing with the albums. Possibly not coincidentally, that’s when the band’s frontman, Darius Rucker, decided to step out of the band long enough to release his 2002 solo debut, Back to Then. That record found Rucker exploring his R&B side. It didn’t sell very well. Six years later, he tried again with a second solo album, Learn to Live, this time deciding to go country. The result: three number one singles on the Billboard country music chart. Bet you can’t guess which of these albums he used as the template for his latest release…

The title of Charleston, SC 1966 was inspired by Radney Foster’s breakthrough record, Del Rio, TX 1959, and if it isn’t necessarily as groundbreaking as Foster’s classic work (it isn’t), there are still moments where it can match it jangle for jangle. (Indeed, some of the jangling on Charleston actually comes from Foster.) There’s plenty of radio-friendly country pop out there, but precious little of it has the kind of crossover appeal that Rucker’s familiar voice can offer, and when it’s singing songs as catchy as “This” and “Come Back Song,” airplay is all but guaranteed.

Sonically speaking, a Rucker newbie listening to the songs from Charleston and Learn to Live on “shuffle” would probably be hard pressed to tell which songs came from which albums, so closely do they follow the same template. Still, you’ve got Bela Fleck on banjo adding a coolness factor, Brad Paisley (who duets with Rucker on “I Don’t Care”) helping to up his country cred, and a Kara DioGuardi co-write (“This”) to guarantee a hit single on both the country and the pop charts. On top of everything else, it really doesn’t sound that different from Hootie. That might not impress you, but once upon a time, 16 million people dug their sound, and based on the success of Learn to Live, it’s clear that a couple of million of them are happy to hear Rucker’s voice again. Can you really blame him for sticking to the same formula for Charleston? (Concord 2010)

Darius Rucker official website

Mt. Desolation: Mt. Desolation


RIYL: The Thrills, The Pogues, The Lilac Time

If you had asked us what we expected the next move to be from Keane after they released their fourth album Night Train in May of this year, our gut response would have been “lengthy hiatus, followed by announcement of signing with new, smaller label.” Don’t get us wrong, we love the boys from Battle, but the release of Night Train, coming so quickly on the heels of the band’s 2008 album Perfect Symmetry, looked for all intents and purposes like they were trying to fulfill their contractual obligations to Interscope and move on. Consider this: Night Train was designated EP status in their native England. Here, it’s a full-fledged long-player. Hmmm.

Mt_Desolation_01

Keane may very well be going on a lengthy hiatus, but two of its members have already cranked out their first side project, which makes it their third album in two years: Mt. Desolation, a collection of, wait for it, country songs, filtered through their English sensibilities. It’s country in the same way that the Thrills are West Coast pop, but Mt. Desolation is a charming album just the same. Rice-Oxley and Quin don’t have the booming voice of their bandmate Tom Chaplin, but their voices actually suit these songs better, though it would be nice to hear Chaplin take a whack at the Keane-ish “Bitter Pill” somewhere down the road. The album has its share of drinking songs (“My My My”) and shit-kickers (“Annie Ford,” “Platform 7″), and while it’s clear that country music is more of a hobby than a lifestyle for those involved, it’s also clear that these songs come from the heart, making this a more honest country record than most country records. Writing a song that could pass for a B-side to Beck’s Sea Change (“Another Night”) doesn’t hurt, either. This is one side project that we’d like to see grow some legs. (Cherry Tree/Interscope 2010)

Mt. Desolation MySpace page
Click to buy Mt. Desolation from Amazon

Sugarland: The Incredible Machine


RIYL: Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts

You can’t review a country album anymore without discussing where it fits in the “real country” versus “country pop” spectrum; the debate over what constitutes the real stuff has been raging since the rhinestone cowboy days, and now that Rascal Flatts is the top-selling act in the genre – and the closest country radio gets to trad fare is fauxdowns from rootin’ tootin’ biceps barers like Toby Keith – country seems poppier than ever.

It’s got to be vexing for listeners who like their music nitty, gritty, and dirty, but country music doesn’t have to be “real” to be really entertaining, and Sugarland’s ongoing bid for crossover success is a case in point. They’re nominally a country band, but their music has always had a strong pop component, and it’s really come to the fore over their past couple of releases, 2008′s Love on the Inside and its covers-heavy live follow-up, Live on the Inside. What can you say about a platinum Nashville act that leaves room on a live album for covers of “The One I Love,” “Love Shack,” “Nightswimming,” Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable,” and Pearl Jam’s “Better Man”? They’re either desperate for broader appeal, or they’re trying to make a point about the arbitrary nature of genre boundaries in the first place.

Sugarland_07

Based on the savvy songwriting and slick, airless production on display in the band’s fourth studio set, The Incredible Machine, it seems safe to assume there’s a little of both at play. Sugarland members Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles have broad musical backgrounds, and they muddy the waters between pop and country more artfully than most; unlike, say, a Rascal Flatts record, you don’t get the sense you’re listening to a pop album that’s been retrofitted with fiddles and pedal steel to appease the county fair crowd. Instead, Machine feels like the work of a band whose singer just happens to have a gigantic, full-throated country holler for a voice – sometimes it’s the focal point of the music, and sometimes it isn’t.

On the other hand, the album’s title is perhaps a little more apt than Sugarland intended. It’s supposed to be a reference to, y’know, the human capacity for marvelous things, but it also makes sense as a statement about how the album sounds – like it was squeezed out of the same denim-coated Velveeta factory that gives us Kenny Chesney records. It’s loud and glossy to a fault, and it’s the kind of record that aspires to bigness even when it isn’t necessarily deserved. This is probably partly a reflection of Nettles’ massive voice, but there are also moments when you can feel Sugarland straining for arena-filling pop profundity, and it’s distracting. (Example: the deafening, all-cards-on-the-table clatter that closes the opening track, “All We Are.”)

It’s a formula that works, obviously – check Sugarland’s RIAA certifications for proof – and it’s hard to fault Nettles and Bush for swinging for the bleachers, especially in such a grim industry climate. Still, the album it adds up to is one that, while certainly entertaining, doesn’t resonate on the level you sense they were aiming for. An impressive machine, surely. Incredible? Maybe next time. (Mercury 2010)

Sugarland MySpace page

Raul Malo: Sinners & Saints


RIYL: The Mavericks, Roy Orbison, Texas Tornadoes

51jgaIohSgL._SCLZZZZZZZ_[1] Raul Malo is an awesomely gifted vocalist and musician, but his solo career has been long on quantity (seven albums in less than a decade) and short on quality control. Too often, his solo albums have given the impression that Malo’s years with the Mavericks wore him out – he’s been content to coast with covers projects, like 2006′s syrupy You’re Only Lonely or 2007′s country-focused After Hours, or specialty-market releases like The Nashville Acoustic Sessions and his Christmas album, Marshmallow World and Other Holiday Favorites. All of which have been fine, in their limited fashion, but nowhere near as exhilarating as those Mavericks records. Without a band to push him forward, it sounded like Malo was happy to keep things at a pleasant, undemanding drift – 2009′s Lucky One, which packed a dozen Malo originals and hearkened back to his days as one of country’s most exciting young performers, seemed like a pit stop between covers projects.

It’s a pleasant surprise, then, that he carries over some of that spirit with Sinners & Saints, a largely self-penned collection that Malo calls “as much of me as I’ve ever put on a record.” It’s brief – ten tracks and under 45 minutes – but its abbreviated length keeps Malo from indulging his weakness for drawn-out ballads, and the result is the loosest, most energetic studio album of his solo career. Recorded with a stellar supporting cast (including Augie Meyers and Shawn Sahm), Sinners highlights the breadth of Malo’s talents, with hints of pop, rock, country, and Tex-Mex in the mix – but it’s also a focused affair, an album where even the longest songs (like a six-minute cover of Rodney Crowell’s “‘Til I Gain Control Again”) feel lean and tightly arranged.

Raul Malo once seemed destined for superstardom, but his career lost momentum in the late ’90s, and Sinners & Saints probably isn’t going to change that. It does, however, prove that this once-prolific songwriter still has some gas left in the tank, as well as plenty of his old passion for playing in the borders between genres. The faithful will be pleased, and if you’ve got a little room in your musical diet for a restless troubadour with the voice of an angel, it just might make you a fan. (Fantasy 2010)

Raul Malo MySpace page

Sons of Sylvia: Revelation


RIYL: Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Rascal Flatts

Don’t blame brother trio Sons of Sylvia if they are a bit pigeon-holed into the country music genre, because that’s not what they are. Sure, the band won a talent competition that led to a deal with 19 Recordings, and one of the band members was a backup singer in Carrie Underwood’s band, but their debut, Revelation, is no more country than Bon Jovi or Bret Michaels. Oh wait….yeah, there is much crossover these days. Let’s just say this is a rock album with moments of twang and leave it at that. And as debut albums go, this is a pretty strong set. The trio is led by singer Ashley Clark and the trio writes together with the help of folks like OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, who happens to be their cousin. And while Ashley has a strong voice, one of the drawbacks is that he tries too hard to show it off. The album opens with “John Wayne,” and this is the country rock song Bon Jovi couldn’t seem to write, but with too many vocal acrobatics a la Adam Lambert. But it’s a good one, as are most of the tracks on here. “Love Left to Lose” is a powerful gang-vocal anthem, “50 Ways” could find its way onto an Aerosmith album, and the current single, “I’ll Know You,” is pure pop power ballad. But the best track of all is “Song of Solomon,” a slowly building gem in which the vocal acrobatics are more appropriate. All in all this is a solid debut and this is a band that could have an extremely bright future. (19 Recordings/Interscope)

Sons of Sylvia MySpace Page

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