Ingram Hill: Look Your Best

RIYL: Better Than Ezra, Collective Soul, Hootie and the Blowfish

True to form, Memphis rock band Ingram Hill has returned with their third release, Look Your Best.  The group’s debut, June Picture Show, and the follow-up, Cold in California, were released on Hollywood Records in 2004 and 2007, respectively, so this 2010 release (on Rock Ridge Music) is in line with the band’s every-three-years format. And, well, if you’re a fan of Ingram Hill, Look Your Best is pretty much a continuation of their previous work – especially to the debut, since they enlisted Rick Beato to produce once more.  If you’re looking for the next cool thing, you won’t find it here. Instead, Ingram Hill write real songs with real hooks that just have this way of making you feel good – as if you’re in a nostalgia warp of sorts to the bands mentioned above; but also the proximity of the band to Nashville has helped front man Justin Moore and company to continually hone his songwriting craft. 

The key to Ingram Hill, in addition to being a great live band, is the fact that they continue to churn out songs with catchy melodies and huge chorus hooks – ear candy, if you will – and Look Your Best is more of that same formula.  The opener “Broken Lover” is a bit too formulaic, but as you delve deeper into this set, you’ll unearth some gems like the power ballads “Hey Girl,” and “Wish You’d Say,” and the mid-tempo “Come Around.”  Really, any of these could be hits on country radio if things don’t pan out with Ingram Hill.  But sure as it’s hot and sweaty in Memphis, fans of the band aren’t hoping for that anytime soon.  (Rock Ridge 2010)

Ingram Hill MySpace page


Edwin McCain: The Best of Edwin McCain

RIYL: Better Than Ezra, Michael McDermott, David Cook

If you want to start feeling old, watch what happens when an artist you grew up listening to is releasing “greatest hits” or career retrospectives that span five to ten albums or more. Such may be the case with singer/songwriter Edwin McCain, who has been making his own brand of acoustic-driven, southern-tinged alternative rock for almost two decades now. So here he is with The Best of Edwin McCain, a nice collection of tracks that encompass both radio hits and some obscure gems as well. McCain may have begun his career as part of the Aware Records camp, the one that spawned some powerhouse alt/pop acts like Better than Ezra and Train, but he wound up evolving into a hit machine – the kind of hits that made the knees of young-to-middle-aged women weak, and that would find their way onto wedding band set lists. We’re talking songs like “I’ll Be” and “I Could Not Ask For More.” And that set list just got longer too, as there is a new track on here, “Walk with You,” about a dad giving his daughter away in marriage. But those in the know have understood that McCain’s songwriting prowess runs much deeper, and that is never more evident than on his inaugural single, “Solitude,” or on the groove-y “Take Me.” There is also a decent cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s “Some Kind of Wonderful.” But for as balanced as this album is, there are a couple of glaring omissions, most notably “Go Be Young” and “Ghost of Jackson Square” from the Messenger album. Still, that’s the beauty of the digital era—that we can go make our own “greatest hits” collections of our favorite artists. Either way, this is a nice look back at a fine career so far. (Time Life 2010)

Edwin McCain MySpace page


Freedy Johnston: Rain on the City

RIYL: Better Than Ezra, Counting Crows, David Mead

Freedy Johnston has been riding a small wave stemming from his mid-90’s alt-pop/modern rock hit “Bad Reputation,” from his major label debut This Perfect World. At the time, Johnston’s music could be found alongside the likes of the Gin Blossoms, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Better Than Ezra in retail stores and radio, and it fit nicely. That also was a high point for Johnston, because he continued to release a few more albums on Elektra, but never quite matched the magic of This Perfect World. The good news for his fans, though, is that Johnston has continued to make music and tour – and 2009 found him back with his original label, independent Bar/None, to release Rain on the City, Johnston’s first album of new original material in eight years. On this effort, Johnston still has hints of what made him popular a decade and a half ago, but the songs are a notch below that material, and his voice is a tad scratchier and more weathered. That isn’t to say this is bad stuff; it’s nice, and the title of the album is perfect for some of what you might call Johnston’s “rainy day” mood music – especially on the title track, as well as on “Lonely Penny” and “The Devil Raises His Own.” He also rocks a bit on the too-truthful “Don’t Fall in Love with a Lonely Girl” and offers up his take on lounge music with “The Kind of Love We’re In.” Rain on the City is a good album by anyone’s standards – but while Freedy Johnston has certainly earned the right to make his living making music, his days of making magic may be a decade or so behind him. (Bar/None 2010)

Freedy Johnston MySpace Page


Various Artists: New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love & Rockets

Say this for New Tales to Tell: A Tribute to Love & Rockets: at 18 tracks, it is one of the most thorough tribute albums we’ve seen come down the pipe in a while, possibly ever. While this makes for a longer listen than is probably necessary, it stands as a testament to Love & Rockets that so many bands – and so many different kinds of bands, at that – were eager to contribute. Black Francis does his Black Francis thing on “All in My Mind” – it should come as no surprise that the band’s 1986 breakthrough Express is the most covered album, with every song but two appearing here – and the Flaming Lips flip “Kundalini Express” inside out, downplaying the drum track and guitar while running the vocals though what sounds like an old ELO-era voice processor. Better Than Ezra, of all bands, does a straight but effective version of “So Alive,” and Chantal Claret teams up with No Doubt drummer Adrian Young to turn “Lazy” into a frisky striptease. Funny, then, that a tribute album featuring 18 songs would not include some of the band’s best-known tunes; “Haunted When the Minutes Drag,” “Yin and Yang the Flower Pot Men,” “Sweet Lover Hangover” and “Redbird” were all skipped over in favor of deep cuts, and while that’s a diehard fan’s wet dream, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher from a label standpoint. Still, it’s hard to argue with the results, which hit a lot more often than they miss. (Justice Records 2009)

New Tales to Tell MySpace page


This World Fair: This World Fair

It appears the next incarnation of Aware Records is here, in the form of Los Angeles-based Ping Pong Music. Ping Pong manages Epic Records’ Augustana, and they are bringing us the next wave of very talented baby bands such as This World Fair, the London, and Windsor Drive. The formula of Ping Pong’s bands is similar to Aware, which launched the careers of artists like Train, Vertical Horizon and John Mayer. And that formula is almost a no-brainer – finding talented acts with hooky, melodic songs – but it’s in stark contrast to today’s hipster-driven music industry that mostly relies on gimmicks and fabricated street cred meters. Still, there is always a demand for great bands like This World Fair, and their debut album is an absolute sonic gift to those who dig the likes of Augustana, Better Than Ezra or Keane. Chris Kalgren fronts the band with a smooth tenor that effectively delivers a balance of driving rockers such as “Can’t Stop Falling” and “Drama,” or dreamy tracks like “This is All.” But among ten tracks that are quite frankly straight A’s, This World Fair scores an A+ with the pulsing, stunning piano-driven “Seven Letters.” Despite where the music industry is headed, there is no good reason why This World Fair shouldn’t be as successful as the rest of the world will allow them to be. (Ping Pong Music)

This World Fair MySpace Page


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