Peter Block: Peter Block

RIYL: Candy Butchers, The Beatles, Randy Newman

Peter Block has done what many others have done before him – assembled a solid batch of songs following the pain of a divorce. Block was divorced after 16 years of marriage, and channeled the pain of that and the physical pain from two herniated discs in his back into creating music. Along with producer Mike Viola of Candy Butchers fame, and with co-writers that included Viola as well as Tracy Bonham and Dan Miller of They Might Be Giants, Block has a record he can be proud of as he jumps full force into the next chapter of his life. The songs on here are bright and breezy, yet intellectual pop. But one of the reasons Block is so compelling is that no one song sounds the same. The best tracks are the opener “Die a Little Everyday,” a melancholy pop gem; the bouncy Randy Newman-ish “In a State,” which has some slick guitar and key production; and the sad but catchy “Good to See You Gone,” in which Block attempts to do his best Shawn Mullins impression. Block is clearly at his best when he’s going up-tempo. Otherwise, as on the pulsing slow rocker “Room Full of Empty Chairs,” he just sounds like he’s trying too hard. Either way though, this is a solid release if you’re into the adult alternative thing and a fan of good songwriting in general. (Engine Room Recordings 2010)

Peter Block website


Saul Zonana: Phatso

RIYL: The Beatles, Butch Walker, Crowded House

Singer/songwriter/rocker Saul Zonana may sometimes experiment with different ideas, sounds and songwriting nuggets, but regardless, his music is almost always melodic and extremely appealing. Such is the case with Zonana’s latest, Phatso, self-recorded and produced in his hometown of Nashville with a small supporting cast. Zonana has also toured with and hung around the legendary Adrian Belew a lot the last few years, and some of Belew’s eccentric ways have rubbed off on Zonana where his songwriting is concerned. Tracks like “Boogyman,” “Mr. Pulsfuss,” and “Direction” are signature Saul, with the same Beatlesque harmonies and guitar tones, and are worth the price of admission here. But he veers left of center a few times, especially on the title track, which features female old-timey vocals and instrumentation. This one sounds like a radio commercial, but as far as that goes, “Really Expensive Cream” is not a song but a comedic bit that is actually meant to be a commercial. It’s funny, but it’s not something you’ll want to listen to over and over again. And two of the best tracks are the acoustic-driven “About You” and “In the Moment.” The former especially is not the type of song we’ve come to expect from Saul, but a really pleasant, stripped-down surprise. And with Phatso, surprise is the name of the game – from a good game at that. (20/20 Music 2010)

Saul Zonana website


Nada Surf: If I Had a Hi-Fi

RIYL: Josh Rouse, Rogue Wave, The Silver Seas

The cool thing about alt-pop band Nada Surf is that they appear to always do things their own way. For whatever reason, though, they stayed together all these years and broke through in 2005 with The Weight Is a Gift, which was produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. The band continued some of that magic with 2008’s Lucky, and instead of lying low as they had planned, decided to release an album of cover tunes. Fast-forward to today, and If I Had a Hi-Fi. While it’s a set of songs that varies widely from the known (Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” and The Moody Blues’ “Question”) to the currently hip (The Go Betweens’ “Love Goes On” and Spoon’s “Agony of Lafitte”) to the mostly obscure (Bill Fox’s “Electrocution” and Macromina’s “Evolucion”), the base of this is Nada Surf’s signature sound, which is akin to Josh Rouse or Ben Folds fronting a modern version of the Beatles. And it’s that sound that is so endearing. That said, there is something about this album that, while nice enough, may leave you wanting more. That could be because Nada Surf’s original material is that good, or it could be that they just chose these songs on a whim based on what they were listening to at the moment. Surely we can’t fault them for taking chances, because they even covered Kate Bush’s “Love and Anger.” But one or two covers on a new Nada Surf record would have worked just as well. (Mardev 2010)

Nada Surf MySpace page


21st Century Breakdown: The iDecade: Michael Fortes’ Ten “Best” Albums of the Aughts

As the aughts draw to a close… who cares? Seriously, who really does care? Does it mean the same to you as it does to me? I ask because this is what I see:

The span of time between the years 2000 and 2009 was like no decade that came before in that, given the rapid and ever more sophisticated advances in technology, we’ve been able to create our own very unique cultural experiences. There may be no “i” in “team” or “us” or “together,” but “i” creeped into our TV viewing experiences (TiVo), our telephones (the iPhone), our computers (how about the iMac?), and – most significantly – the way we listen to music (iTunes, the iPod, etc.), which is arguably where many of our personalized media experiences began in the first place. Which is great, on one level. If we only want to hear what we want to hear at the moment that we want, we can have that experience for relatively little money, at any time we please.

But on the other hand, what was threatening to become reality pretty much happened in the ’00s – we collectively eliminated the possibility of there ever being another Beatles, Elvis Presely or Michael Jackson, someone that most of us can all agree on. Given that Michael left us mid-way through the last year of the decade, we have effectively lost our last great pop culture figure, and even he was vulnerable to the pressures of our shape-shifting culture. The one album of all original material he released this decade (2001’s Invincible) was not only one of his poorest sellers, it also sucked way more often than it didn’t. Granted, we still have two Beatles left, but even Paul McCartney hasn’t been able to produce an album that could unite all of his old and young fans the way his work with the Beatles continues to do.

Which brings us to the album itself. It’s not completely dead, and will always have a place so long as musicians think of themselves as artists and still revel in the joy of creating a cohesive work of art. But let’s face it – fewer people are buying albums (on CD, that is – digital download sales and even sales of vinyl records continue to increase, though not nearly enough to offset the decline in CD purchases). And that translates to fewer people who can come together to agree on which ones are great, and which ones are best forgotten. And fewer people to care.

Having said all that, in conjunction with our End of Decade series, I present to you my picks for ten best albums of the decade, in no particular order. These are albums that, for one reason or another, connected me to many, many different people over the past ten years, all of whom mean something to me. Maybe you’re one of them, or maybe you will be someday.

Doves – Lost Souls (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008)
M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent (2003)
Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)
The Gutter Twins – Saturnalia (2008)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Ambulance LTD – LP (2004)
Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun (2000)
Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (2007)


Los Lonely Boys: 1969

RIYL: Santana, Blind Faith, The Doors

The Texas power trio loves classic rock and that affection is on display here with an EP featuring covers of five tunes from one of the greatest years in rock history, 1969. Santana’s “Evil Ways” kicks it off with a showcase for Henry Garza’s blazing lead guitar skills. Blind Faith’s “Well All Right” and the Beatles’ “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” both receive the “Texican” treatment and become groovier than the original versions. The band makes the songs sound like their own with upbeat arrangements where Garza’s soulful vocals intertwine very nicely with his guitar playing. There are also jamming wah-wah solos at the end of each.

Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie” is the most obscure track on the disc, but it’s a bluesy rocker that fits right in. The Garza brothers close it out with The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” which also receives an infusion of wah-wah before blowing up into a turbo-charged jam. All the songs retain a classic sound thanks in part to mixing by Andy Johns, the engineer who recorded the original version of “Well All Right” (as well as working with Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.)

These artists are all obvious influences on Los Lonely Boys. But since there would be no point in making an EP of covers that sound just like the originals, it’s fun to hear the band do a strong job of re-arranging the tunes so that anyone of them would fit right into their live set. (R.E.D. Distribution 2009)

Los Lonely Boys MySpace page


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