Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group - Oh Brother Where Art Thou? - 1995

The lounge/indie pop band known as the Legendary Jim Ruiz Group made waves with this 1995 disc on Chicago's Minty Fresh Records. Led by Jim Ruiz, the six-piece band storms through a dozen blissful songs fueled by lounge, jazz, and pop. Despite the band bearing Ruiz's namesake, the music is a team effort, with Stephanie Winter-Ruiz adding a lush backing vocal on the opener, "Mij Amsterdam," and Chris Ruiz adding a jazzy alto sax to the second track, "My Bloody Yugo." Winter-Ruiz takes the lead vocal duties on the bossa nova-inspired "Spain." The clean instrumentation and vocals on songs like "Be My Valentine" and "She's Gone Away" are slightly reminiscent of Combustible Edison and fellow Chicago band the Coctails. The jazzy organ on "Lucht" is followed by a haunting alto sax line by Brian Tighe on the disc's final track, "Oh Porridge." The disc features a wealth of guest musicians, including guest appearances on drums, bass, saxophone, and guitar. Drummer Bryan Hanna, bassist Charlotte La Bonne, and guitarist Matt Gerzema round out the group. The sublime and carefree tones on Oh Brother Where Art Thou? solidified the band as leaders of the lounge pop scene. -AMG

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Roger Klug - Toxic And 15 Other Love Songs - 2000

Toxic And 15 Other Love Songs, is superb. Klug masterfully attacks all his instruments with gusto and comes up with songs of immense charm and complexity, lyrically, smart-arsed and sharp. Add to this the fact that Klug is possibly the most blazingly lethal guitarist alive and you have a breathless mix that can't be beaten.- MOJO

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Beulah - The Coast Is Never Clear - 2001

After the dazzling reception of 1999's When Your Heartstrings Break, Beulah wasn't concerned with following things up with something fashionable. The bandmembers were near masters of crafting the perfect pop song -- for themselves -- and quite comfortable with the process. The Coast Is Never Clear captures Beulah's classy cool indie pop, akin to what came before. Singer/songwriter Miles Kurosky's quirky lyrical rants are spry, and the personal experiences behind each song allude to Beulah's unabashed nature. From the twangy licks of the bittersweet "Popular Mechanics for Lovers" to the psychedelic soul tinker of "A Good Man Is Easy to Kill," Beulah gives way to a breaking heart. Sulking and wistful, the theme works and it's not beyond measure. The pop melodies are relaxed; the harmonies are solid. "I'll Be Your Lampshade" is Beulah's country take, with sweeping horns and a sad, pathetic harmonica wallowing over a lost love. It's not necessarily fit for tears, but The Coast Is Never Clear isn't necessarily joyless. The band is sarcastically sweet on "What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?," while emulating what everyone has faced in the role of eager, adoring wooer. Beulah's indie cred cannot be tarnished with The Coast Is Never Clear. It's not strict rock music -- it's basic. And it's good.-AMG

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Alternate Routes - Good And Reckless And True - 2006

The Alternate Routes' debut release is uplifting but rather nondescript guitar-oriented rock, with plenty of soaring guitars and anthemic vocals in the hard-charging tunes that dominate the disc. In the occasional quieter tracks, singer Tim Warren has a light timbre reminiscent (yet not explicitly imitative) of singer/songwriters like Paul Simon or James Taylor; the piano-acoustic guitar-dominated "The Black and the White" is the strongest effort in that regard, though it's not too typical of the album. A bit of hard rock guitar cockiness rears its head once in a while (as in the closing "Please Don't Let It Be"), but that influence isn't too overwhelming either. A group that hews so close to mainstream forms has to have really strong songs, or at least melodic hooks, to make an impact, and they're not in evidence here. -AMG

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Evan Dando - Baby I'm Bored - 2003

After the Lemonheads' Car Button Cloth, Evan Dando disbanded the group and took a long, long break, sobering up and marrying, slowly resurfacing after over five years of inactivity. First, he played some gigs, commemorated on the U.K.-only live album Live at the Brattle Theatre, before he finally released his first official solo album, Baby I'm Bored, in the spring of 2003, a full seven years after the last Lemonheads album. It's unmistakably a Dando album -- lots of low-key, three-chord songs, sang in his achingly lovely voice, and lasting not a second more than need be -- not much different than a Lemonheads album, apart from the lack of fast songs, loud electric guitars, and a general sense of maturity that permeates the album. So, there are no surprises, but that's a comfort, really, because Dando sounds comfortable and relaxed, lending Baby I'm Bored a cohesion unheard on his records since It's a Shame About Ray. While the schizophrenia, marked by unexpected noise detours, aren't missed, this cohesion does mean that he doesn't hit dazzling heights, so there isn't anything as immediately indelible as "If I Could Talk I'd Tell You" or even "The Outdoor Life." That said, there is something to be said for consistency. Even if it seems unassuming and underwhelming upon its first listen, Baby I'm Bored with each spin reveals the uniform strength of the songs and the sweet, understated charms of Dando as a performer, since he makes the covers -- several of which are written by Ben Lee -- sound of piece with his own work. Make no mistake, this is a laid-back affair and it's a grower, which may lead some listeners to dismiss it out of hand, but anybody that has longed for Dando to finally return to music will surely find much to enjoy here. -AMG

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Martial Arts - Your Sinclair - 2006

Paul Kelly adopted the name when Christian Örjestål discovered his melodic indie-pop on the 'net and subsequently released material on two compilations by the man’s celebrated Groover Recordings imprint as a result. Following a favorable reaction across the international pop underground, an EP, “Do It Riot Grrl” was the precursor to the début album “Your Sinclair”. Recorded in Stockholm with Shout Out Louds producer Ronald Bood, “Your Sinclair” evokes 60s beat, 70s new wave and 80s indie - with a few moments of intense guitar abuse thrown in for good measure. The band toured Norway and Sweden in 2007 to promote the album following positive critical acclaim and continue to enjoy some popularity in that hemisphere.
So far the fickle UK scene has yet to catch up however “Your Sinclair” was album of the week on BBC Radio Scotland’s Tom Morton show. What does he reckon?
"The Martial Arts...roots rooted grand-pop confectioners with guts, glamour and all the potential for glory. The Swedes love 'em. Why can't we?"
It’s not altogether clear how a bunch of youngsters from Glasgow can combine the sounds of Halfnelson (pre-Sparks for any young ‘uns) and The dB's with likes of Hefner and the Violent Femmes, but if any of the aforementioned do it for you then chances are that The Martial Arts will push similar buttons. -Lindsay Hutton 'The Next Big Thing' fanzine


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Fire Marshals of Bethlehem - Songs for Housework - 2005

The Fire Marshals of Bethlehem are the best band to come out of Texas since the True Believers in 1985, melodic, intelligent, near-perfect pop/rock. This is certainly the most significant Texas release of the '00s. The F-Mob, as their fans are starting to call them, are the first new band in nearly 15 years featuring John Croslin, the singer/guitarist/songwriter of Austin's beloved Zeitgeist/The Reivers, who made several landmark albums in the '80s. He'd considered himself retired for years, moving to California and producing records for acts like Pavement, Guided By Voices, Waylon Jennings & the Old 97s, The Damnations TX, and The Wannabes. Now back in Austin, he hooked up with sultry vocalist Julie Lowery, David Mider of Javelin Boot, and Kevin Carney & Hunter Darby from one of Austin's best post-Replacements, post-True Believers, post-Zeitgeist pop/rock bands, The Wannabes. The resulting album is magnificent. The sound is a smooth, soothing mix of harmonic jangle. With Jenny Smith's violin adding lovely warm color to the proceedings, the album has AAA radio written all over it. The lead-off track "Rock For Your Pockets" is perhaps the most reminiscent of Zeitgeist, and the most immediately catchy track on the album. With four songwriters in the band, you'd expect to be able to tell the songs apart by songwriter, but personally, after having an advance of the album for five months, it all sounds remarkably like the work of one writer to me -- a real unified band sound. "Crazy" and "Please Don't Worry" have hit single potential written all over them. Songs For Housework, on the other hand, as I write this in February, is clearly the album to beat for my favorite album of 2005.- Kent H. Benjamin • Pop Culture Press

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Everyothers - The Everyothers - 2003

A big-sounding mix of glam rock, garage, power-pop, and straight-ahead rock, the Everyothers' self-titled debut recalls the similarly gutsy but smart sound of Cobra Verde and Urge Overkill. Unlike many other New York rock bands of the moment, the Everyothers opt for a relatively polished production on their debut, which alternately helps and hinders their sound. The clean sound gives the album's best moments, such as the opening track "Can't Get Around It," "Ticket Home," and the jangly "Break That Bottle" an extra kick, but it also makes some of the album's less-inspired moments such as "Surprise Surprise" and "Dead Star" sound overly slick. However, most of the album falls into the "pretty good" category: "Make Up Something," "Like a Drug," and "Go Down Soon" are entertaining in the moment but don't tend to stick with listeners after they're done playing. The band's undeniable chops and Owen McCarthy's charismatic vocals -- which recall David Bowie and Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter -- carry them through these moments, but occasionally it seems like the Everyothers have more attitude and technique than memorable hooks and melodies. In those departments, the second half of The Everyothers fares better than the first: "In My Shoes" adds just enough pop to the band's sound; "No Right Time" is jaunty and pissed-off with soaring choruses; and "English Cigarettes" has a flashy, almost cabaret feel that makes it one of the album's most distinctive tracks. Overall, The Everyothers is a good debut album that would've made an even better debut EP -- there's enough right with the Everyothers' sound and style that it makes the band's occasional stumbles that much more frustrating. -AMG

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bill Lloyd - Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - 1999

Bill Lloyd makes no bones about his interest in mid-'60s, Beatles-style pop/rock, especially on this, his third solo album, the title of which describes his posture exactly. If you think 1965 and 1966 were the greatest years in human history, when sainted young men with jangly guitars sang melodic three-minute songs about love over peppy beats, this is music for you. Many of the basslines and guitar solos will be familiar, and, like the album title, many of the songs specifically refer to earlier music, especially the Beatles on titles like "Dr. Roberts Second Opinion" and "Turn Me on Dead Man." (Remember the "Paul is dead" rumor?) Lloyd assembles a cast of like-minded friends for these frisky goings-on, including ex-NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, Cindy Bullens, Marshall Crenshaw, Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken, Henry Gross, Al Kooper, Cheap Trick bassist Tom Peterson, Greg Trooper, and Poco steel guitarist Rusty Young. But he actually plays most of the instruments himself, and the guests never get in the way. There are songs here that would fit seamlessly onto Nuggets, not to mention the Beatles' Yesterday...and Today, and that's a high compliment. Of course, the music has nothing to do with the contemporary country music scene where Lloyd made his mark, or with much of contemporary pop music. But, hey, it sounds really cool, and we're not complaining. -AMG

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Downbeat 5 - Victory Motel - 2006

Victory Motel is a gritty, powerful, no-frills rock n roll rampage that hs no boundaries. Taking it's cues from '60's Beat and Soul and 70's inspired Punk and Garage, The Downbeat 5 create their own wall of sound filled with foot-stomping beats, three-part harmonies, and JJ's ripping lead guitar riffs accenting Jennifer's sensual vocal screams and primal rhythm section featuring Mike Yocco on bass and Eric Almquist on drums. You don't listen to Victory Motel, you experience it. "Make Your Mark" speeds the blood rushing through your veins; "Out in the Streets" sends shivers down your spine, "Laughin' Out Loud" pummels you with gospel and soul, and "Lonesome Town" sends you down the road with a lonely country twang. Victory Motel is an album for ALL fans of Rock 'n' Roll. -downbeat5.com

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mike Viola & the Candy Butchers - Falling into Place - 1999

In the mid-'70s, British singer/songwriters like Graham Parker and Elvis Costello launched careers with music that tempered the onslaught of punk to a more melodic rock sound reminiscent of mid-'60s Beatles music and its many followers, and, while retaining punk's lyrical anguish, explored more complex emotions with more eloquent words. On his debut album, Mike Viola, whose voice most people heard for the first time singing "That Thing You Do!" in the movie of the same name, resurrects the sound of Parker & the Rumour's Howlin' Wind and Costello & the Attractions' This Year's Model, fronting the rhythm section known as the Candy Butchers, with occasional added keyboards by the Band's Garth Hudson. Viola's rough voice has much of Parker's urgency to it, and his songs, less substantial than those of Costello, are nevertheless concerned with many of the same elements of romantic disappointment and its attendant frustration. Indeed, he seems to be rewriting the same song over and over: "All day I'm thinking about you, " he sings in "Give Me Some Time," and "You are always on my mind" in "Can't We Do Anything Right," a title followed one song later by "Doing It the Wrong Way." One song is called "Falling into Place," another "Falling Back Down." Viola's music for these confused and ambivalent sentiments is raucously played by the Candy Butchers, and occasional horn and string charts add grace without robbing the tunes of bite. Mixer Bob Clearmountain has given the album an explosive sound in which every instrument seems simultaneously very loud and distinct. Chip-on-the-shoulder sensitivity is a good combination of feelings in the ever-adolescent world of rock & roll, and it works as well for Viola on this debut album as it has for others in the past. The next question is whether, like Elvis Costello, he'll evolve out of it or, like Graham Parker, keep repeating it.-AMG

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Lillingtons - Death by Television - 1999

Originally issued on Lookout Records in 1999, the Lillingtons' pop-punk classic Death by Television has been remastered by Mass Giorgini (who produced the original album) for this 2006 reissue through San Francisco-based Red Scare. Burnt out from covering girls and heartbreak on their earlier work, the Lillingtons switch things up for this super-charged record, thematically basing their songs around sci-fi movies and UFO type phenomenon -- that's right, their rollicking energy is now channeled into songs where aliens are taking over the world and Neil Armstrong is taking bananas away from moon-bound Apemen. The guys are pretty straightforward in their Ramones-styled approach; a handful of different chord progressions, a quick beat, and an unwavering vocal delivery are all that's needed to deliver 14 invigorating songs that aren't anywhere near as tedious as that description might suggest on paper. The Wyoming crew's muscular pop-punk sits alongside underground faves like Screeching Weasel and the Queers, but with a much more lighthearted and less sarcastic line of attack. Death by Television has been considered by many as not only the Lillingtons' best work, but also one of the strongest pop-punk releases to come out of the '90s. But regardless of that well-deserved distinction, most people probably missed this gem the first time around. So now is your chance at redemption with that guy with the Ben Weasel shrine in his room -- just be sure to thank the nice folks at Red Scare for your newfound street cred as you're rocking out in your car. -AMG

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

Marc Teamaker - Marc Teamaker - 2003

Marc Teamaker's gentle vocals and consummate guitar playing often draw comparisons to Todd Rundgren, Matthew Sweet and James Taylor. Although a relatively unknown artist outside of the East Coast, fans of melodic pop would do well to seek out the recordings of this highly articulate singer/songwriter. -AMG

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