Soulive: Rubber Soulive

RIYL: The Beatles, G Love & Special Sauce

There is a reason why so many artists have taken a whack at the Beatles’ catalog – it quite literally has something for everyone, which is why everyone from Aretha Franklin to Motley Crue have covered them. Curiously, despite the fact that they were a driving force behind a million pop acts, it’s the soul singers that have gotten the most mileage out of their material. This makes perfect sense, really; before Brian Wilson came along, Paul McCartney wanted to be Little Richard.

Enter New York jazz funk hounds Soulive, who have tackled songs from both ends of the Beatles spectrum (the soul singers tended to stick to the earlier material) for Rubber Soulive, finding the funk in even the more white-bread songs in the Fab Four’s catalog. One wonders if the band heard the Beastie Boys’ cover of the Jam’s “Start!,” because the goings here are very similar in nature, though Soulive clearly have musicianship on their side. Their version of “In My Life” is surprisingly soulful, and Eric Krasno does as good an impression of George Harrison (on guitar, that is) as you’re likely to hear. Sometimes the band seems to be trying harder than the song deserves (“Eleanor Rigby,” “Revolution”), and as nifty as their arrangements are, they don’t exactly make any of these songs their own, as a certain “American Idol” judge is fond of saying. Still, it’s a perfectly enjoyable trip through the finest catalog in music, and the kind of thing that will likely land as backing music in movies for years to come. (Royal Family Recordings 2010)

Soulive MySpace page
Click to buy Rubber Soulive from Amazon


OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

RIYL: Prince, MGMT, Death Cab for Cutie

They are only releasing their third album, but OK Go has rather shrewdly defined themselves as a multimedia phenomenon rather than a rock band. It’s a genius move, really, because suddenly the standard benchmarks for judging a band’s success are thrown out the window. Did the last album go gold? Who cares? The video they made of themselves dancing on treadmills has racked up over 49 million plays on YouTube. They are, in short, the kind of band that record labels used to kill to have on their roster; their devoted fan base would guarantee that all of the band’s albums would sell reasonably well, and as an added bonus, they allowed their bean-counting overlords to tell people that they believe in the creative process above all else. (Pssst. They don’t.)

©Jeremy & Claire Weiss Photography/Day19.

You get the sense that the band is more than aware of their rather fortunate place in the pop universe, because they just used that freedom to create their most adventurous, and consistent, album to date. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky bears little resemblance to the over-caffeinated power pop that once served as the band’s calling card, trading the muscular grooves of their 2005 album Oh No for something, well, groovier. Prince’s influence is all over the place, from the Parade-ish “WTF?” (complete with a 5/4 time signature and rip-roaring solo) to the slammin’ “White Knuckles,” which is one of the best “1999” covers ever. (Likewise “End Love,” which is this album’s “I Would Die 4 U.”) Singer Damian Kulash gives the falsetto an extensive workout here, which is fitting with the lyrical content; he’s clearly had his heart broken – “Needing/Getting” is the Jilted Lover song of the year – so the falsetto gives good voice to his pain.

If they’re smart, OK Go will consider adding producer Dave Fridmann as an unofficial fifth member, because his influence here cannot be underestimated. The drum tracks sound like the stuff of Steve Lillywhite’s wet dreams circa 1983, and the guitars are crystal-clear. He clearly encouraged the band to think big, because these songs bob and weave in ways the band had never dared to try before; “Needing/Getting” and “Skyscraper” both feature lengthy outros, and the overall sound is positively massive compared to the stripped down Oh No. If there’s a catch, it’s the album’s final third; there is nothing particularly wrong with the songs, but emotional fatigue begins to creep in. And then, in the final moments of closing track “In the Glass,” they clean the slate with one hellacious tribute to “I Want You/She’s So Heavy,” a slow-building, climbing/falling chord sequence that will give Chris and Ben from Death Cab fits. If only Fridmann hadn’t recorded the drums so hot at the end; the music is so pretty, but when turned above a whisper, the drums sound like an avalanche. Pity, since Fridmann had done such a good job avoiding that pitfall up until then.

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky may not bring many new fans to the OK Go camp – outside of a few Prince devotees – but we’re guessing that doesn’t really concern the band much, and that is exactly how it should be; the second a band starts worrying about what other people think of them, they’re done. At this rate, it wouldn’t surprise us to see OK Go turn into the pop equivalent of Wilco. God knows, the world could use more of those. (Capitol 2010)

OK Go MySpace page
Click to buy Of the Blue Colour of the Sky from Amazon


Dwight Twilley: Out of the Box

RIYL: Richard X Heyman, Jason Falkner, The Smithereens

For some artists, an album consisting solely of cover songs would seem a fallback tactic intended to simply buy time. However, coming from Dwight Twilley, the concept finds an appropriate fit with his power pop M.O., reflecting the music that provided his earliest inspiration. And while the majority of his cover choices on this new LP might negate the need for a redo, Twilley manages to impose his indelible imprint on each, making them a good fit with his own catalogue in the process.

Truth be told, Out of the Box doesn’t opt for the obscure. In fact, most of the material is – to say the least – pretty well worn. Songs like “Secret Agent Man,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Stand by Me” and a well-stocked selection of Beatles standards clearly veer towards the obvious. Even the color photo – a psychedelic headshot – offers a retro reference by replicating Richard Avedon’s famous kaleidoscopic portrait of John Lennon.

Happily then, the treatments are anything but ordinary. Aside from the fact that he opts to strip down the arrangements to a basic rock ‘n’ roll motif, Twilley applies his vocals with an angst and intensity that gives these tracks an amped up sense of urgency and desperation. The Bee Gees’ “Holiday” finds a distinct sense of desperation while John Lennon’s “In My Life” echoes with decided remorse. Even the droning “Tomorrow Never Knows” finds an added element of edge and desire.

Inevitably, there will be those who lament the fact that Twilley hasn’t anything original to offer. Indeed, given the recent abundance of rarity collections and other material from his archives, an album of new material would seem long overdue. Suffice it to say, Out of the Box only adds to the anticipation. (Gigatone 2009)

Dwight Twilley MySpace page


Are the remastered Fab Four even fabber?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you know by now that the entire Beatles catalog was given a new coat of paint on Wednesday, courtesy of a series of painstaking remasters commissioned by the gang at Apple Records — but what you may not know is whether the reissued albums are worth your hard-earned coin. With a slew of CDs on the market, including a limited-edition, 11-disc box of mono mixes, a person could conceivably spend upwards of $400 on the freshly polished Fab Four. If you’re on the fence about the remasters, never fear — Bullz-Eye is here to help.

In a discussion held by David Medsker and yours truly, the stereo remasters are held up against not only the original Beatles CDs, but the remastering fad in general, as well as the compression fad that has sent modern recordings on a quest for ever-brighter levels of sound. (In David’s words, “We’ve heard some shitty-sounding records in the last few years, haven’t we?”) Like many of you, we were concerned that the ’09 versions of these classic albums wouldn’t really do the original recordings any favors, and approached them with a healthy degree of cynicism.

So how did it turn out? Not to be too suspenseful about it, but you’ll have to click on the image above or follow this link to get the verdict. See you there!


BBC to air new Beatles doc


Keeping with Beatles news (as they obviously need the press), BBC Two and Four is about to have their “Beatles Week,” which will air multiple documentaries on the the legendary band. The most anticipated on the bunch is The Beatles on Record, which will include narration by the Fab Four and their producer George Martin, unreleased outtakes, and conversations from the band in the studio. The series will kick off on September 5th. Other pieces include The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, which chronicled the band’s 1964 visit to the States, as well as How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin, an interesting look at the Beatle’s impact on communist Russia.

The Beatles On Record, directed by Bob Smeaton, charts The Beatles’ extraordinary journey from Please Please Me to Abbey Road and reflects on how they developed as musicians, matured as songwriters and created a body of work that sounds as fresh in 2009 as the time it was recorded.

Narrated entirely by John, Paul, George, Ringo and their producer Sir George Martin, the documentary features more than 60 classic songs, rare footage and photos from The Beatles’ archives and never-heard-before out-takes of studio chat from the Abbey Road recording sessions.

This is followed on the same evening on BBC Two by The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit.

BBC Two will also be reshowing Timewatch: Beatlemania, the inside story of the rise and fall of Beatlemania. By 1966 the Beatles had played more than 1,400 gigs, toured the world four times and sold the equivalent of 200 million records. At the height of their popularity, and without warning, they pulled the plug and never toured again.

There’s also another chance to see the action adventure spoof Help!, directed by Richard Lester.

Unfortunately, BBC hasn’t confirmed whether on not they will air the series on BBC America. I don’t see why they wouldn’t, as nobody watches that station anyway. Inform Americans that the channel will air a slew of never-before-seen Beatles footage and you’ll have millions tuning in.

The tribute week will coincide with EMI’s release of the band’s entire digitally remastered catalogue, as well as the previously reported The Beatles:Rock Band. Both will be released on September 9th. Hopefully BBC will wise up and air “Beatles Week” in the States, where there’s a larger market and just as rabid a fan base.