Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden

Older rock acts are making a ton of money these days touring, but now we’re seeing something a little different from Billy Joel. Starting in January he’ll be playing Madison Square Garden once a month as an artist-in-residence there. It will be fascinating to see how things go with this experiment, as similar runs have worked well in places like Las Vegas. New York is so big, and has so many tourists, that this might make sense with Joel’s large fan base. He hasn’t put out an album in decades but he has avery lotal following. The clip above has him playing MSG for the Concert for New York City back in 2001. Enjoy, and now it will be much easier to see him live in New York again.

  

Billy Joel live: “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”

This live version is well done. It looks like it’s from the late 70s.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Carlos Ramirez’s picks

Musically speaking, 2008 was all about nostalgia for me. Not only did my all-time favorite album get the reissue treatment, largely-forgotten genres like synth-pop and power-pop crept their way back onto my playlists. So in that spirit, I’ve compiled a year-end list with my top choices in 10 separate categories. Now if 2009 could only bring back hair-metal, I’d be A-okay.

Best Metal Album

Scar Symmetry: Holographic Universe
As out-of-control great as Scar Symmetry’s songwriting and musicianship proves to be on Holographic Universe, the jewel in their crown is without question vocalist Christian Alvestam. His death-metal vocal attack is an absolute force to be reckoned with. Its deep tonality and razorblade-kissed harshness drives the heavier sections with brute force. But what really makes Alvestam’s appearance a revelation are his cleaner vocals. It’s the kind of powerhouse voice that is usually reserved for AOR bands like Survivor, Toto, and Journey; not in a Swedish death-metal band. It definitely doesn’t sound like a great idea on paper, but when you hear the mixture of his melodic crooning and piercing guitars coming out of your speakers, your doubts swiftly fall by the wayside. Alvestam’s performance on the album is nothing less than a tour-de-force that should get praise from both the heavy metal and more mainstream hard rock/AOR communities.

Best Synth-Pop Album

The Foxglove Hunt: Stop Heartbeat
If you’re as devout a synth-pop fan as I am, you’ll know about the lack of quality groups releasing records these days. Throughout the late 1980s, it seemed like every major and indie label had at least two or three synth-pop acts on their rosters. Outside of die-hards like Depeche Mode and a handful of other groups (on the A Different Drum label), the genre has been relatively quiet. The Foxglove Hunt is comprised of Ronnie Martin (Joy Electric, The Brothers Martin) and Rob Withem (ex-Fine China) and the duo’s list of influences reads like a KROQ playlist from 1987. The dramatic Giorgio Moroder-styled keyboard melodies and Neil Tennant-worthy vocal performances make Stop Heartbeat feel like it comes from an entirely different era. “The Life Highrise” could have been on Dare while the fluid bass lines on “That’s Getting Personal” have Peter Hook written all over them. From start to finish Martin and Withem get it right. Even when they take on the Psychedelic Furs’ haunting “Love My Way,” the duo hits the mark.

Best Comeback Album

Mudcrutch: Mudcrutch
After releasing an unsuccessful single in the mid-’70s, Florida jangle-rockers Mudcrutch went their separate ways. This, of course, wouldn’t be more than a mere footnote in the annals of rock-n-roll if the band’s singer/bassist wasn’t none other than a young Tom Petty. Now we all know how things turned out for Petty and his fellow Mudcrutch guitarist Mike Campbell, but most of us had only read about their former band’s work through the years. When it was announced that the Gainesville, FL rockers were reuniting for an album and tour, record geeks waited with bated breath. Mudcrutch didn’t disappoint. Reflecting the band’s love of southern and country-rock, the record is filled with ample amounts of lush vocal harmonies and twangy guitars. If the band would have released “Scare Easy” back when they were originally together, there might have never been the Heartbreakers.

Best British Album

Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid
Elbow’s first three albums were all top 10 list contenders in the years they were released. But The Seldom Seen Kid is “album of the year” material from top to bottom. For one second just picture Peter Gabriel fronting Radiohead and you’ll have a good idea of what this British quintet is going for. Like the Gabrial in his Genesis days, vocalist Guy Garvey’s lyrical muse is suburban England. The songwriter shines a light on the every day tedium of life in the burbs on songs like “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” and “Grounds for Divorce” proving his work here is worthy to all the hype it’s been showered with lately. In “One Day Like This,” Garvey and Elbow have the song that Chris Martin wishes he wrote for Viva La Vida.

Best Undiscovered Album

Gentleman Jesse & His Men: Gentleman Jesse & His Men
There’s something magical about the sound of a Rickenbacker busting out an open A chord. This 12-track collection of energetic power-pop is bursting with bubblegum sweet vocal hooks and the kind of guitars Chris Stamey and Tommy Keene championed back in their heydays. GJ & HM have every power-pop trick mastered, but everything is funneled through with garage-rock charm. Unlike the Raspberries, who had the majestic flair of Eric Carmen, the Georgia band’s rough and tumble performances instantly makes them attainable to the lo-fi and punk crowds. This stuff is strictly for fans of the Replacements, Big Star, and the Exploding Hearts.

Best Indie-Rock Album

The Mary Onettes: The Mary Onettes
From the look of my list this year, it seems like everything that was old is new again. Maybe it’s because I’m in my mid-30’s now or perhaps it’s a genuine disconnect with the palette a lot of newer bands are working off of, 2008 had me falling for the albums that looked backwards in terms of musical style. Sweden’s Mary Onettes must feel the same way I do lately. The glistening guitars, ringing bass runs, and melancholic choruses wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the soundtrack to a John Hughes film. Philip Ekstrom’s vocals quake and quiver on earwigs like “Pleasure Songs” and the completely addicting “Lost” making him a frontman to keep an eye on. Hopefully the band can find a label with a stronger presence in the States because I have a feeling these lads would be huge if more people had a chance to hear their hooky guitar-pop, they’d be huge.

Best Punk Album

Dillinger Four: Civil War
Dillinger Four are one of the few bands that most punk fans can agree on. The more fickle traditionalists go absolutely gaga for the Minnesota act’s streamlined and high-energy approach. But even listeners who take their punk with two helpings of melody in it adore D4’s hooky choruses. The road that led to the release of Civil War was a bumpy one. The album was mired by studio delays, day-job hassles, and even an internet leak. But boy, was it worth the wait. The filthy power-chords that kick off opening track “A Jingle for the Product” gets your blood boiling and it’s all butt-kicking from there on. Erik Funk’s vocals never sounded as snotty. His singing style embodies the same rebel spirit that made punk icons like Howard Devoto (Buzzcocks) and Milo Aukerman (Descendents) so irresistible to listen to so many years back. In Lane Pederson the combo have one of the more exciting, tough-as-nails drummers going today. His relentless attack anchors fast-movers like “Like Eye Contact In An Elevator” perfectly while he holds back just enough on “Fruity Pebbles” to give the song enough breathing room for Funk’s melodies to creep in.

Best Dance Album

Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles
On Crystal Castles’ debut full-length, old Atari sound effects pierce through the mix, synthesizers are abused, and frontwoman Alice Glass shrieks over the top of everything with menacing punk-rock attitude yet they’ve somehow constructed the dance album of the year. The tracks comfortably jump from techno to house to synth-pop sometimes even doing it within the span of one song. Ethan Kath is the master audio manipulator here dismantling Glass’ vocals, bending and tweaking them so much that they almost become unrecognizable in moments. But the soundscapes are king here. The keyboard melodies on “Crimewave” and “Vanished” are instantly memorable, almost haunting at times. There’s a timeless quality to everything here. For once, the hipsters were right.

Best Single

“Black and Gold,” Sam Sparro
It sounds like a long-lost Gamble & Huff gem produced by Prince and then remixed by Afrika Bambaataa circa 1982, yet “Black and Gold” feels more vital than 98% of the singles released in 2008. Written and sung by Australian newcomer Sam Sparro, “Black and Gold” was a smash throughout Europe but it barely made a dent here in the U.S. when it was released during the spring. A bank of frothy keyboards pad the track but it’s the pulsating bass and percussion that drive the song. Sparro obviously studied the great American soul singers of the ’70s because every line is pushed through with a brilliant balance of sensuality and macho bravado. I guarantee if Justin Timberlake would have released this track it would have been a Number One single.

Best CD Reissue

Billy Joel: The Stranger 30th Anniversary Edition
The original 1977 version of The Stranger is probably my favorite album of all time. That said, I wasn’t expecting more than a remastering job and new liner notes when Legacy Recordings announced that they would be releasing a 30-year anniversary edition of the classic recording. So you could imagine my surprise when news leaked that a live 1977 concert from Carnegie Hall would also be included as a second disc PLUS a DVD of promo videos, an appearance on the “Old Grey Whistle Test” and a 30-minute documentary about the making of the record would also be included! This is the kind of treatment an album this important deserves. The Carnegie Hall performance had mythical status on the Billy Joel fan boards for years, and rightfully so. It’s the kind of career-making show that most fans only dream about attending, so having it here is really a treat. The documentary is ripe with all kinds of behind-the-scenes information and compelling interviews with Joel and producer Phil Ramone so even the most devout fans have something to salivate over. Hopefully Legacy does the same thing for the rest of his late 70’s work.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Jason Thompson’s picks

Another year in music has come and gone. As I compiled this annual list of my favorite albums, I felt the cynicism creeping over me. Man, the music industry has really gone down the crapper but good. I don’t feel as bad for artists waxing nostalgic about the “good old days” as I might have a few short years back. I’m turning into one of those dudes who “can’t relate” to all the music the kids are digging these days, though I suspect that has more to do with my not being a Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana fan than anything else. In the meantime, Metallica released a new one whose regular CD mix apparently sounded shitty compared to the “Guitar Hero” edition of the same album, and Axl Rose finally got around to releasing Chinese Democracy, which may have been overshadowed more by Dr. Pepper making good on their promise to give everyone a free bottle of their product if the album was released this year. Yeah, things are a bit of a mess. But here are a nice batch of albums to keep you entertained in this day and age of music biz misery,

Top 10 albums of 2008

1. Kingen: Ride with Me
As soon as I had played this album straight through for the tenth time after shortly receiving it, I figured there wouldn’t be anything else to change my mind about what album would be topping my list this year, and there wasn’t. Sweden’s Kingen created a great brew of real R&B, soul, and rock and roll with a little Louisiana swagger thrown in. The best thing about this album is it isn’t a tribute or nostalgia trip for the artist, but the real deal. Where else are you gonna find that these days?

2. Starfucker: Starfucker
This odd and wondrous pop gem blends strange vocals, goofy synth hooks, and a whole lot of catchy melodies. Their randy name aside, Starfucker have already made some great headway on the indie circuit thanks to this fun and engaging release. Listen to “German Love” once and you’ll never get it out of your head. Sort of like a great Air track, only not so full of itself. The rest of the album goes off in all sorts of directions but never gets too weird for its own good. Pure sugary fun.

3. Earlimart: Hymn and Her
Now stripped down to its two original and essential members, Earlimart continue forth with this hypnotic collection of tunes that goes down the street of the Velvet Underground’s third album, mixing the blissful with the melancholic. Yet it’s all very much more uplifting than downbeat, furthering the proof that this group is still one of the best around. When you’re doing your own thing this well, you never have to look back.

4. Eivind Opsvik: Overseas III
What do you get when you make an album that mixes jazz with a bit of rock and it doesn’t suck? Why, you get this album, of course. Over the course of its extended tracks, Eivind Opsvik throws down the jazz-whathaveyou lead in New York City and lets everyone else follow. This is highly enjoyable stuff without getting too cerebral for those who don’t like too much math in their jazz, or without just sucking all over the place (Spyro Gyra, Kenny G., the rest of the gang). This is almost tranquil listening, with a good groove underneath to keep the heads bobbing.

5.XX Teens: Welcome to Goon Island
If you like your rock to sound like it’s coming straight out of that late ‘70s CBGB’s atmosphere without sounding like wannabes such as the Strokes, then you’ve come to the right place. XX Teens have all the attitude and the musical prowess to put them over with the caffeinated, pilled-up crowd. Razor-thin guitar riffs, crunchy rhythms, and semi-scary lyrics make this a fun trip for everyone who’s sick of the whole doldrums that modern rock has become.

6. Charlatans: You Cross My Path
I honestly hadn’t listened to a Charlatans album in a long time – at least, not a new one. But these guys were one of the very few Manchester groups of the early ‘90s to keep things going, and usually at a critically acclaimed pace. This album can only continue that trend as there’s hardly a miss to be heard in it. For those still spinning the grooves out of Some Friendly from all those years ago and promptly forgot about them, you’d find a lot to like out of this new Charlatans disc as it’s all of that plus a whole lot more, and a whole lot better, stuff.

7. Tal M. Klein: Plastic Starfish
I’ve been grooving to Tal M. Klein since he was calling himself “Trancenden” (a name that he finally shed as he was sick of people assuming that he was a trance music artist). On his latest nautically-themed release, Klein keeps up the good funk and danceable grooves mixing live instruments with sampled vinyl and whatever else he likes. Basically, it’s another slam dunk for Tal. I dunno how the guy finds the time, seeing as how he’s always grooving up some party and writing up restaurant reviews on Facebook, but he’s the man with the master plan and I am but his adoring fan.

8. Feed The Need: Feed The Need
This album was pitched to me by the group’s manager and turned out to be a very enjoyable listen. This group of teenage musicians has pretty much done the impossible. That is, they created an album of mostly original tunes whose lyrics didn’t sound whiny or tried to come off as “older.” These guys sing what they know about, and do it in a way that at times sounds like groups such as Steely Dan in its earlier years. Now what other teenage group is gonna give you that?

9. Heap: Oddball
Heap came back from a little break after their great debut On the Cheap with this second studio set (a live album occurred in there as well) that pretty much continues the fun grooves of the first album. They’re a rockin’ bar band with a love for the Replacements and they mix their strengths well. One can almost imagine them being the band the ‘Mats would have become if perhaps Bob Stinson had got his shit together and Paul Westerberg didn’t get so sentimental. If you love straight-up rock, this is the band for you.

10. Hills Rolling: Something Delicious
To put it simply, Hill Rolling does a great less-is-more thing, mixing Beatles pop sensibilities with Lou Reed-style guitar playing and arranging. Two of my favorite acts rolled out as one new one. I can’t argue with that, and neither should you.

Best Reissues of 2008

1. Nick Lowe: Jesus of Cool
One of the greatest albums ever finally gets the deluxe treatment and everyone can once again hear what the fuss was all about. This is exactly how a great pop rock album should be made. It’s important yet disposable, witty yet touching, sarcastic and trashy. Okay, Nick, it’s time to finally make the proper sequel to this. I know you have to have a few more tunes as great as “So it Goes” up your sleeve these days.

2. Billy Joel: The Stranger 30th Anniversary Edition
This was the album that made me a music lover back in 1977 when I was five years old and my older brother brought it home. This new edition features a superior remastered sound by original producer Phil Ramone, a live CD, and a DVD, not to mention the token booklet and other goodies. It’s till the music that matters, though, and anyone who can’t instantly get into the first few bars of “Movin’ Out” has no soul. And on “Vienna,” Billy created one of his greatest album tracks of all time.

3. The Jacksons: Triumph
A far more enjoyable album (to my ears) than Michael Jackson’s breakthrough Off the Wall, this was the last stop before Thriller and found the Jackson boys grooving all over the damn place. “Can You Feel It?” is still great disco, while “Lovely One” funks harder than anything any of thse guys did before or since. The newly remastered edition sounds fantastic, though its three bonus tracks are complete throwaways. Still, if you truly want to hear a moment in time when Michael and his siblings were unstoppable, then check this out.

  

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