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Catman Cohen

Catman Cohen

The Catman Chronicles 2: How I Want to Live

Keevay Music

A follow-up to The Catman Chronicles 1: How I Want to Die, this second volume tells us how Catman Cohen wants to live. While the title track starts off the album, “Water is Blood” really sets the tone for this socially-conscious undertaking, the second from the Catman Project. The theme this time around focuses on the upcoming fresh water shortage. Headed up by the enigmatic singer/songwriter Catman Cohen, the group aims to move music from vacuous entertainment back to being a force for change. Their success will have to be determined at a later time, for now, I can focus only on the music.

Catman himself sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, a raspy bullfrog voice that grabs your attention. He speaks rather than sings his way through the tracks he takes the lead on. While his voice has a strong quality, I could see getting tired of it rather quickly. Thankfully, he realizes this too, and has several other members of the Project handle vocals throughout the album. It ranges from simply having background vocals liven the space behind him on the title track, to a lovely counterpoint/harmony between Catman and Simone Simmons on “Dancing With Mr. Daddy” to “My Key to the Stars,” a heartbreaker sung by Jimmy Swan.

The songs range from catchy (“Dancing With Mr. Daddy”) to funny (“Vegas Pussy”) to inspiring (“Water is Blood”), to all three at once (“Captain of Industry”) and are all worth at least one listen. I will admit that I was disappointed in the cover of Five for Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”. While dedicating the song to everyday heroes (firefighters, police, teachers, nurses, etc.) is a touching sentiment, Catman’s spoken-word delivery just doesn’t impress me on this one.

In keeping with the focus on fresh water, Catman plans to donate 20% of the profits from the CD to two organizations focused on water education and the prevention of privatization. If music that takes some chances and tries for some social responsibility appeals to you, maybe you can help a few folk singers change the world.

Catman Cohen: www.catmancohen.com

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Music Reviews

The Michael Harris Band

The Michael Harris Band

Open Letter

Dai Box

Michael Harris sings from the point of view of the Everyman. Neither cocky nor angst-ridden, Harris could be your neighbor, your co-worker, or even your brother. There is a simplicity to his lyrics that is endearing. At the same time, the emotions he expresses and the stories he writes are channeled from deep within. The track that best expresses what Harris is about is probably “Superman,” which confesses his vulnerability without drowning in self-pity. In it Harris is trying to save a failing relationship. “I try to save the day/ Try to do everything that you say/ Try to fulfill the dreams in your head/ Lost my cape along the way/ Yeah, Superman won’t be flying today,” Harris sings, his voice of regret soaring through the clouds.

But they aren’t called the Michael Harris Band for nothing. Harris has surrounded himself with a group of versatile and highly talented musicians. “Alice” is folky pop with sizzling horns and a robust beat. “If I Could” has a slower tempo but it’s an evocative acoustic ballad with moody jazz textures. On the haunting “September Song,” teardrop cello drifts through the song’s profound feelings of loss.

Harris has a big voice that is remarkably disciplined. He doesn’t try to reach high notes that he can’t. On “Fresh Water,” Harris recalls Peter Gabriel at his most soulful.

Michael Harris Band: cdbaby.com/cd/mharrisband

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Music Reviews

Five For Fighting

Five For fighting

The Battle For Everything

Sony/Aware

Essentially singer-songwriter John Ondrasik’s solo project, Five For Fighting shot to fame following the success of the hit single “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” The problem was, the accompanying album didn’t come close to matching the quality of such a great single. Unfortunately, the band’s follow-up, The Battle For Everything, again suffers from the same issue.

With its haunting piano riff and lyrical content, lead-off single “100 Years” is as good anything Ondrasik has ever written. His sweet vocals shine on “If God Made You,” the delicate “Dying” is contemplative and memorable and “Disneyland” captivates with its joyously catchy hook. But it’s frustrating to hear Ondrasik’s talents become bogged down in second-rate MOR efforts, such as “One More For Love,” “Maybe I” and the truly forgettable rocker “The Taste.”

Songwriters such as Ondrasik should have the least to fear from the emergence of iTunes culture. But it’s only songs like “100 Years” that people will pay to download. And, bands like Five For Fighting who produce albums as lopsided as The Battle For Everything will face a fight for their own to survive.

Five for Fighting: www.fiveforfighting.com/

Categories
Music Reviews

Five For Fighting

Five For fighting

The Battle For Everything

Sony/Aware

Essentially singer-songwriter John Ondrasik’s solo project, Five For Fighting shot to fame following the success of the hit single “Superman (It’s Not Easy).” The problem was, the accompanying album didn’t come close to matching the quality of such a great single. Unfortunately, the band’s follow-up, The Battle For Everything, again suffers from the same issue.

With its haunting piano riff and lyrical content, lead-off single “100 Years” is as good anything Ondrasik has ever written. His sweet vocals shine on “If God Made You,” the delicate “Dying” is contemplative and memorable and “Disneyland” captivates with its joyously catchy hook. But it’s frustrating to hear Ondrasik’s talents become bogged down in second-rate MOR efforts, such as “One More For Love,” “Maybe I” and the truly forgettable rocker “The Taste.”

Songwriters such as Ondrasik should have the least to fear from the emergence of iTunes culture. But it’s only songs like “100 Years” that people will pay to download. And, bands like Five For Fighting who produce albums as lopsided as The Battle For Everything will face a fight for their own to survive.

Five for Fighting: www.fiveforfighting.com

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Music Reviews

Stage

Stage

Stage

Maverick

It’s a bit discouraging, really, the sheer amount of bands like this that are around these days. Why do people bother with it? Anyway, this is another semi-grunge act following in the wake of Nickelback and label fellows Home Town Hero. Greg Wattenberg (Five For Fighting) produced this, and it shows — truth be told, Stage are, at the very least, better than that particular anemic outfit, but this is still safer and more sedated than anyone could ever hope for.

Tracks like “I Will Be Something,” “Perfect” and “I Know Where You Are” could definitely pop up on a radio station near you in the next few months, but that’s not necessarily saying they’re any good. “Live Happy, Live Anorexia” is an anguished and climaxing track that stands miles above the rest — more of this, please! Elsewhere, Stage sit a bit too comfortably next to your regular Better Than Ezras and Dishwallas for comfort, and it’s just another case of a band trying too hard and feeling too much without really fooling anyone.

Maverick Records: http://www.maverick.com

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Music Reviews

Aware

Aware

Greatest Hits

Aware

Aware is the label that actually prides itself on having unleashed acts like Matchbox Twenty, Train, Hootie and the Blowfish and Five For Fighting on an unsuspecting and partially deaf public. Kudos to them for bringing struggling dead-end artists to a wider audience without ripping out their souls in the process, but one can always discuss actual merit and, in this case, the quality of the artists. You see, they all suck.

Well no, they don’t. This album collect the “best of” from Aware’s annual compilation CDs, which are dedicated to (mainly) unfamiliar acts that may or may not deserve a break. And while those bands all sound strangely similar to each other, in a Counting Crows sort of way, there are a few glimpses of individual talent on here. Better Than Ezra’s star shines brightly in a crowd of Verve Pipes and Vertical Horizons, and John Mayer’s “Stupid Mouth” isn’t all that bad after all. Five For Fighting have come up with something almost tolerable with “Easy Tonight” and I even have a soft spot for Shawn Mullins’ annoying “Lullaby.” There, I’ve said it.

But that’s it, really. The artists on here — all undoubtedly talented people, in a “we’ve been around for a long time, sonny” kind of way — all occupy the same corner in commercial rock, and their songs are all going to grate on your nerves after not too many a listen. It’s blue-collar enough to warrant some bonus points, but you’ll start to wonder if it’s actually a capitalist ploy to eventually undermine any support for the working class.

On another note, there are nine Aware comps out so far, but most tracks on here are taken from the earliest of the lot. That may indicate that Aware has come to some sort of musical standstill lately and should consider moving beyond their regular narrow paths of commercial rock. If they’re willing to broaden their musical horizons and refocus their search for new talents to include other fields of music, Aware could have something really exciting going.

Aware Records: http://www.awarerecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Five For Fighting

Five For Fighting

America Town

Aware/Columbia

In the wake of Ben Folds Five’s disheartening departure from existence, a few hopeful heads had turned to Five For Fighting in search of a new piano pop prophet. However, the alliterative triple-F leave an awful lot to be desired, and their unsolicited place in the shadow of Ben Folds Five leaves them almost pathetically meager. For one, Five For Fighting merely include the piano instead of relying on it, and most all songs utilize a guitar to hold the light and airy piano’s hand through what can only be justified as hopelessly boring melodies. Sleepy and dull, America Town isn’t anything awful to listen to; it’s just not very inviting.

Five For Fighting’s songwriting isn’t terrible, even though their delivery is. They put together cohesive tunes that almost — really, really almost — carry themselves, if only their legs were stronger. The final product, tragically, sounds more like the band rocked out for a long while and then, when the button was pressed to start recording, they staggered to catch their breath. This is recent Billy Joel pop sung by a combination of a sedated Eddie Vedder and the lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish, with lyrics that are somewhat inventive but always somber. FFF are nice to fall asleep to but hard to be excited about, and their brand of small-town contemporary rock has some substance — it’s just in desperate need of Viagra.

Columbia Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022, http://www.fiveforfighting.com