Automatic Loveletter: Truth or Dare


RIYL: Pink, Alison Iraheta, Paramore

Rock band Automatic Loveletter is a bit of an anomaly. On the one hand, this sounds like one of those Warped Tour, Fuse-era bands that winds up on those tween TV shows. But on the other, this female-fronted outfit is just a damn good rock band with a singer that is clearly gifted. That singer is Juliet Simms, who has one of those voices you just can’t peg – it’s equal parts Janis Joplin and a female Butch Walker. Sound interesting? It is. But it’s more, because this young band has some killer songs on Truth or Dare, their debut album on Sony’s SIN (Sony Independent Network). That said, Simms’ voice can be shouty and one-dimensional at times, and that can distract a bit. But for the most part, this one is worth checking out. Among a solid set of 12 tracks, the best of the bunch are the opening anthem “Heart Song,” which is like one of those Pink/Butch Walker hybrids; “Fade Away,” which sounds like one of those teen summer romance songs; and “Day They Saved Us,” which is a combo power ballad/balls-out rocker. Yes, at times Automatic Loveletter defies description – you just have to hear it for yourself. But it’s all good. (Sony Independent Network 2010)

Automatic Loveletter MySpace Page

  

Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project


RIYL: Santana’s Shaman and Supernatural, Anoushka  Shankar’s Breathing Underwater,  WOMAD label artists

On the surface, one might conclude that Herbie Hancock’s current release, The Imaging Project, is a Johnny-come-lately effort that builds on the model Carlos Santana rode to great success on Supernatural and Shaman.  That is to say, call in a diverse group of popular artists and have them record songs that infuse their styles with the dominant musical character of bandleader. Hancock and company certainly attempt that, but Mr. Hancock has grander designs other than just creating a hit record.  The Imagine Project is, according to Hancock, part of a global outreach strategy featuring musicians from various corners of the world to foster a kind of globalization that emphasizes mutual respect rather than a top-down cultural dominance emanating from U.S. to the rest of the world.  Does Hancock succeed in his ambitions?  At times he does, but at other times the record sounds like bland smooth jazz that never rises above level of innocuous background music for worker bees in office buildings.

The most interesting tracks (and ones that reach Hancock’s ambitions on this album) are tucked in the middle and end of the CD.  “The Song Goes On” featuring Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter – and some blistering sitar playing by Anoushka Shankar – demonstrates what I think Hancock had in mind for this album (the same goes for “Tempo De Amor,” “La Tierra,” and “Tamatant Tilay/Exodus”). Alas, there are some real duds that take away from the potential grandness of the project.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” featuring Dave Matthews is as pointless of a cover as it is boring. “Imagine” gets bogged down in pomposity and relegates Jeff Beck to playing a solo that could have been done by any good musician with about a year’s worth of guitar lessons.  And only Pink saves “Don’t Give Up” from becoming a milquetoast cover of the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush original.

The Imagine Project is not a horrible record by any stretch, but it continually falls short on both fusing various musical styles and finding new wine from the old wineskins of classic songs. However, when it shines (as it does at times), the music does transcend geographic boarders to create a fusion that lives up to Hancock’s stated goal for this record.  (Hancock Records 2010)

Herbie Hancock’s website
Click to buy The Imagine Project from Amazon

  

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

  

Butch Walker and the Black Widows: I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart


RIYL: Candy Butchers, Fountains of Wayne, Bryan Adams

Before he became as ubiquitous in the pop/rock music world as Kara DioGuardi and Diane Warren, Butch Walker was so totally cool. He fronted an indie modern rock band called Marvelous 3, a group that put out a few blistering albums of awesome power pop. Then Walker went out on his own and delivered one of the best rock albums of all time in Left of Self-Centered. Naturally, he started to get phone calls from other artists and labels and managers, wanting him to write with, produce and guide artists such as Pink, Bowling For Soup and Avril Lavigne. He also released a few more solo albums along the way. And while nothing measured up to Left of Self-Centered or the Marvelous 3 stuff, Walker has clearly taken two steps backward with his latest, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart. Maybe it’s because this one comes a little over a year after his latest, Sycamore Meadows, because being that prolific has a tendency to water down the material. In addition, part of the problem here is that while some of the songs seem catchy while you’re listening, you won’t be singing any of them afterward, because they’re not memorable, at least not based on the very high bar Butch has set for himself. There are a few exceptions, like “Stripped Down Version,” which has some slick guitar work and pretty harmonies, or “She Likes Hair Bands,” featuring lyrical snark reminiscent of the Marvelous 3 days. But on the likes of “Trash Day” and “House of Cards,” some of you die-hard Butch fans will be hitting “skip.” And while the closer, “Be Good Til Then,” carries a beautiful sentiment and was written for his very young son, the repetitive melody is more tired than anything Walker has ever delivered. I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, will, sadly, have Butch fans saying that they liked it better when his songs had heart. (One Haven 2010)

Butch Walker website

  

Morel: The Death of the Paperboy

Morel is an acclaimed remix artist who as worked with Pink, Depeche Mode, Cyndi Lauper and about a dozen or so other platinum artists. He’s also well known in house music circles for his club singles and his work with the dance music duo Deep Dish. But his career as a solo artist has been noticeably less successful, and The Death of the Paperboy probably isn’t going to change that. Too much of this album has Morel going away from his strengths, and experimenting with ballads and rock-driven pop songs. It occasionally works; “Anymore, Anymore” sounds like some fabulous combination of Erasure and Oasis, and the upbeat “Flawed” sounds like Hot Fuss-era Killers with a dozen or more synthesizers plugged in, but for the most part it all straddles the line into either generic dance music or down-tempo electronic pop. But let’s be honest, Morel makes music predominately for (gay) club play, and there are a few songs here that work great in that regard. But if that doesn’t interest you, then there is no reason to even glance at The Death of the Paperboy. (Outsider Music 2008)

Morel’s MySpace Page

  

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