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Music Reviews

Collective Soul

Collective Soul

Blood

Fuzze-Flex Records

It’s hard to believe that multi-platinum, Grammy-winning Collective Soul has been rocking the music world for 25 years. The alt-rock band from Georgia burst onto the scene in the 1990s with smash hits such as “Shine,” “December,” “The World I Know” and “Gel,” and they have remained one of the most consistently successful groups of the ’90s post-grunge era. On their tenth studio album and latest release, Blood, the unmistakable riff-heavy intros and catchy hooks are still there but co-mingled with a mature, reflective vibe. The ten-song release was written and tightly produced by E Roland (Ed having shortened his name to E). The very title itself, Blood, suggests the strong familial ties that bond the band. Even the cover art displaying the silhouette of an expectant mother through what looks like frosted glass suggests the same theme – Blood – Family – Bond. In interviews, Roland describes how the addition of guitarist Jesse Triplett and drummer Johnny Rabb created the writing spark that the founding frontman needed and a new energy within the band, which also consists of original members guitarist Dean Roland and bassist Will Turpin. Initally slated as a double-album, the idea was nixed and instead another record will be released some time next year. The band has been incorporating songs from the new album into their live sets for over a year. After covering two of their shows within the past year, I can confirm firsthand that the new material blends seamlessly with their tried-and-true favorites.

Starting off heavier and then subtly morphing into more radio-friendly, piano-driven material, Roland does a brilliant job of guiding the flow of this record. The first three songs, “Now’s The Time,” “Over Me” and “Crushed” start off in vintage Collective Soul style – riff heavy, bouncy and get-you-out-of-your-seat great. “Over Me” is particularly frenetic and heavier than the others, while “Crushed” leans more in the pop direction musically but not lyrically. It has a wicked edge and features a killer guitar solo from Triplett. The song focuses on a woman whose life is stuck in drugs and misery, blaming the world for her problems. Roland cunningly throws in the line The ’90s rocked but they’ve come and went, perhaps a reference to the band itself and moving forward.

In an interview with Michael Witthaus, Roland confided that two of these new songs were inspired by one of his favorite artists, the late Tom Petty. In fact, Roland confessed borrowing the riff from “Jammin’ Me” (Tom Petty/Bob Dylan/Mike Campbell) on “Right As Rain,” one of the more pop-oriented cuts and the perfect choice for the first single. Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Sara McLachlan) lends some solo slide guitar. Roland also admitted that the speaking part in “Good Place To Start,” also more pop-slanted, was inspired by the Tom Petty/Mike Campbell-penned “Here Comes My Girl.” I first heard this song live and my immediate take was that parts of it were very Cat Stevens-esque.

“Them Blues,” “Good Place To Start,” “Big Sky” and “Porch Swing” get a brilliant boost from Sugarland’s Kristian Bush on organ. Roland’s piano on “Them Blues” smacks of Elton John while the song itself could have been taken out of a Three Dog Night catalog. “Changed” is a moving ballad with Roland’s stirring piano and Peter Searcy’s poignant cello accompaniment while the drum-driven, bouncy beat of “Big Sky” is a soul-stirring observation about getting older and “going home” to the “Big Sky.”

I truly love every track on this record, but the standouts for me are “Observation Of Thoughts,” a truly moving composition with some incredible guitar, and the closer, “Porch Swing.” In addition to Bush, this last track features Tommy Shaw of Styx on mandolin and backing vocals. Bush’s organ is elegantly subtle and even Rabb’s percussion is perfect. Roland offers a very simple but pointed social and political commentary, and wraps it up with this: Let the summer breeze/Cool our needs right or wrong/Let tomorrow bring/Love to move us on/Til then I’ll be here on my porch swing/Rockin’ all day long/I’ll just be here on my porch swing/Til I write the next song/Rockin’ on my porch swing all night long. The song closes with whistling, and it couldn’t be a more ideal ending.

One last noteworthy observation is the biblical references scattered throughout the music: Wake up talking in my sleep/The Virgin Mary comforts me (“Now’s The Time”), Sister says she’s feeling sick/Gather up a crucifix (“Over Me”), Got a cross I do bare/It’s a Jesus piece I wear/But I don’t/No I don’t know if it makes me whole (“Right As Rain”), Goddamn this moment/Goddamn what lies ahead/I’m just a sinner/Reaching for his Savior’s hand (“Observation Of Thoughts”).

This new record is a testament to Collective Soul’s timeless sound and their uncanny ability to adapt their music to a more mature audience while truly continuing to rock. E Roland sums it up best: “I think Blood expresses where we’ve been on this life journey. And we’ve done so with songs featuring piano and strings to those with a lot of guitar riffs. Blood is an accumulation of all the different styles we’ve used over the years, but it’s still COLLECTIVE SOUL. I think it’s the best we’ve ever done.”

Collective Soul is in the midst of their “Now’s The Time 2019” Tour with Gin Blossoms as support on some of the tour. The beauty of the new record is that every song rocks and it is over before you even realize it. Several cuts are in daily rotation on the tour. I highly recommend buying a copy of Blood and getting out to a show if the band comes through your area. This is one band that brings 110% to every live show.

www.collectivesoul.com

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Music Reviews

Pistoleros

Pistoleros

Silver

Fervor Records

Pistoleros were one of the bands that emerged out of the burgeoning Tempe, Arizona scene back in the early 1990s. Contemporaries Gin Blossoms were probably the most high profile Tempe alumni, and the connection with the Pistoleros was evident on “My Guardian Angel” from their debut album Hang Onto Nothing, penned by the late Blossoms songwriter and guitarist, Doug Hopkins.

Since that high point, the band declined in popularity despite a decent self-titled follow-up record, with brothers Mark and Lawrence Zubia recording various side projects since then and reuniting for 2015’s Shine.

On the band’s 25th anniversary, Silver sees Pistoleros mainly sticking to the kind of southern-flavoured mid-tempo rock that made their name, as shown on the stirring opening duo of “You Are Not Alone” and the excellent “Lost and Gone”.

“Always You and Me” slows down the tempo a little, and “Gimme Gimme” has a ’70s glam rock feel. And while “Summertime” has surfaced before on the Zubia Brothers’ side project, it’s a perfect example of the band’s trademark sound: strong melody and jangly guitars. Along with “Part of Yesterday”, it’s the highlight of the album.

Overall Shine is a decent record that tries its best to emulate the heights of the band’s debut effort and shows there’s a band with plenty left to offer 25 years after their heyday.

www.thepistoleros.com

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Music Reviews

Admirers

Admirers

Involuntary Memory

Ardent Music

Disco isn’t just dead, the formaldehyde preserving it in the halls of Trance and Synth pop and The Pet Shop Boys evaporated long ago, leaving behind something like a freeze-dried ball of ramen noodles. And just like ramen, you can add some hot water and pretty much anything you have lying about, and you’ll get an interesting, if not nutritious, musical meal. Mickey Jones (Longwave, Mickey Jukebox) shaved a bit off of everything recorded since MTV gave up on music and ramenized it, bringing us this interesting and eclectic project.

The silky, post-dance “Passengers” synthesizes the ominous 1980s late-night weekend Night Flight to the Neil Tenet-smelling “Nocturnal.” We sense the complete synthesis of every style that has gotten one person or another swaying on the flashing Saturday Night Fever dance floor. It’s hard to pin down where this disc would land in the genre-pedia; I hear bits of Wire and Duran Duran and maybe a riff of the Gin Blossoms or Boy George. This is eclecticism cranked up, and there might even be a bit of a hit here. “Culture Shock” oozes an urgent and sinuous sound recalling the post-Germs band Twisted Root singing “Snaked.”

Liner notes point out that this entire record was produced on the third shift — I agree it works best in the dark after a few drinks and a weird movie or two. I like this product, even if it’s a bit hard to describe.

Admirers

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Event Reviews

The Sounds

The Sounds

with Wallpaper, The Constellations

Firestone Live, Orlando, FL • October 13, 2011

Time stands still when Maja Ivarsson, the blondie that fronts The Sounds, steps into a room. Slipping in a side door during one of the opener’s sets, wearing a black leather jacket and effortless sex appeal, she pauses for a beat before slowly ascending the stairway up to the band’s green room. Like a cool breeze parting the smokey haze, even if you don’t spot the singer making her entrance, you probably feel it. The band’s not even onstage yet, and already Ivarrson’s owning the room.

The Sounds' Maja Ivarsson

Jen Cray
The Sounds’ Maja Ivarsson

Atlanta’s psychadelic/alternative rock hybrid, The Constellations, occupied the time it took for fans to gradually meander into the venue, but didn’t own much of anything. The Gin Blossoms covering Beck at a ’70s costume party — if you can imagine that, you can imagine The Constellations’ look and sound. Singer/multi-instrumentalist Elijah Jones slipped into a pseudo rap-style that, backed up with an otherwise southern rock sound, was a strange fit for the group… or maybe it was just 15 years too late.

The Constellations

Jen Cray
The Constellations

Wallpaper was a much better fit for the dance-eager audience, despite the fact that at first glance they (especially the colorfully garbed, hat wearing singer Eric Frederic) looked a bit ridiculous. Silly looks aside, Frederic’s drunken-good-time vocals paired with the permanently dancing backing singer Novena Carmel laid over top of dual drums and melodies that sound like LCD Soundsystem after a night of heavy drinking, was infectious.

Wallpaper

Jen Cray
Wallpaper

From the first bass and drums breakdown chorus of opening number “Shotgun,” a song that introduced to us Frederic and Carmel’s wide-leg-bounce choreography, Wallpaper was a party sent through the speakers that got everyone jumping.

Their rambunctious set could best be described by one of their own lyrics: “It’s like the best night ever/ This song/ I’m really feeling this song/ This song/ Fucking Best Song Ever” (from “FuckingBestSongEver”).

So, there are two lessons to be learned here:

1. Don’t judge a band by their neon colored tank tops, silly pants, goofy hats, and orange sunglasses

2. Not every band has to write music like U2, sometimes a silly dance band is just what the body and brain ordered.

Wallpaper's Frederic and Carmel

Jen Cray
Wallpaper’s Frederic and Carmel

Hair glowing like a beacon on a stormy night, Maja Ivarsson strutted up to the front of the stage caressing the first of many cigarettes between her lips, and sang the Carpe Diem lyrics that opened up their latest album: “It’s so easy when you know how it’s done/ Ya gotta sieze the moment/ before it’s gone” (from “It’s So Easy”).

With her and the band buried deep inside of a blue and magenta haze, the most striking features onstage were Ivarsson’s hair and endless legs that were, of course, well lit and on display. These legs, like Angelina Jolie’s lips or Gwen Stefani’s abs, are wonders of nature and they are most definitely not unappreciated by Orlando area fans. In fact, they may just be responsible for a few ticket sales.

Ivarsson as a beacon in the haze

Jen Cray
Ivarsson as a beacon in the haze

“It feels good to be back,” she said to the small but devoted crowd, “We’ve played here so many times… Orlando feels like family.”

The hour-and-then-some set touched base on all four of the Swedish band’s full-lengths, from “Seven Days a Week” and the self-titled track off of 2002’s Living in America all the way through to all of the impossibly tasty dance hits off of this year’s Something to Die for — an album so good that it even scored a couple of songs on the soundtrack to Scream 4. Of those newer songs, the drum break at the end of “Better Off Dead” was tribal enough to inspire a select few to do the robot (ok, yes, that was me), “Yeah Yeah Yeah” was so potent it may have impregnated more than one bouncing fan, and power ballad “The Best of Me” sounded ten times better live than on record.

The Sounds

Jen Cray
The Sounds

As has become a bit of a tradition for Sounds’ shows, a solo performance of the heartbreaking “Night After Night,” with Maja clutching a cigarette in one hand and the microphone in the other, was a gripping highlight of the night. The levels at which the audience sang along touched Ivarsson to the point that she backed away from the mic’ with a choked up smile, put her hand over her heart, and mouthed the words, “thank you,” before finishing up the last verse.

Jen Cray

If the pattern continues, The Sounds should be sliding through Orlando again within the next six months or so… or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Whenever they return, you can be sure that bodies will move, sweat will run, and hearts will melt. And every person in the room will go to sleep dreaming of Maja Ivarsson’s legs.

Gallery of live shots from this show: The SoundsWallpaper.

The Sounds: www.the-sounds.com • Wallpaper: thisiswallpaper.com

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Music Reviews

Yuck

Yuck

Fat Possum Records

There aren’t enough hours in the day to generously give listen to all of the music that begs to be given breath. We’re in the era of multi-tasking, so why haven’t we found a way to listen to more than one piece of music simultaneously? We’ve got two ears, let’s utilize them!

For instance, when listening to the debut album by London youths Yuck, I could also be listening to all of the bands whose styles and sounds they’ve adopted as their own. The album is a damn fine release, and far too addicting to eject, but my brain is now aching to spin some ’90s records I haven’t visited in years!

There is no one defining band from that decade that sums up the influence of the sound of Yuck, it’s more of an indiscriminate tasting of all things indie/alternative from the early years of that millennium-ending decade. When they want to stretch the limits of distortion on their fuzzed-out guitars (“The Wall,” “Holing Out”), they do so with confidence beyond their years (average age: 20). When they want to unplug and slow the mood down to a coffeehouse pace (“Suicide Policeman,” “Suck,” “Shook Down”), they truly excel. Channeling Elliot Smith and even a little bit of the better side of Gin Blossoms, the acoustic tunes are the key to this album’s success. It’s in these that the band becomes more than a substitute for old Matador or Sub Pop Records releases and, instead, a band deserving of both of your ears — your Archers of Loaf, Vaselines, and Afghan Whigs albums can wait.

Yuck: yuckband.blogspot.com

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Music Reviews

Kyle Stevens

Kyle Stevens

Songs from the Orange Room

Seattle singer/songwriter Kyle Stevens inches toward the folky, Americana stylings that the Emerald City is gradually becoming known for without leaping full-bodied into it. Stevens is, first and foremost, a rock musician, and the fingerprints of Seattle’s early ’90s grunge heyday can be detected albeit in a relatively less noisy fashion in his work. But there’s no denying what inspired the guitar fuzz of “Getaway Car” or the brittle riffs of “Thicker Than Leather,” which wouldn’t have been too out of place on Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy album. Stevens even sings with a deeper, more husky tone on “Thicker Than Leather,” reminiscent of Eddie Vedder’s arena-filling booming voice without self-consciously aping him. However, Stevens takes a rootsier approach than his Puget Sound predecessors, his songs expressing an obvious affection for Tom Petty and the Gin Blossoms.

The radiant opener, “Sparkle and Fall,” sounds nothing like what follows, though. On this cut, Stevens veers closely to the incandescent new wave of Echo & the Bunnymen. With its lush strings and ringing guitars, “Sparkle and Fall” could have been a killer Sire Records single circa 1988 when dreamy bands such as the Wild Swans and the Ocean Blue were championed on the college charts. “The Last Time I Was Bored” cranks up the amps while hinting at Stevens’ direction towards Americana. By the third track, the kiss-off “This Is Not a Love Song” (no relation to the Public Image Ltd. post-punk classic although it would have been amusing to hear that given a country makeover), Stevens has embraced the genre, even having Patrick Porter to add pedal steel to the mix.

Although featuring only six tunes, Songs from the Orange Room doesn’t feel half-full. Stevens doesn’t cut us short here. Every track has a memorable hook or two, and Stevens is versatile enough to prevent singer/songwriter boredom from kicking in.

Kyle Stevens: www.kylestevensmusic.com

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Music Reviews

Bluepoint

Bluepoint

Thanks For Not Asking

Friendly like an old Labrador. Somehow, that’s the feeling I get from this Bay-area quartet’s debut disc. They sound like a band all your friends would be in, and you could go to the gigs free if you didn’t have to haul amps up rickety stairs. Warm fuzzy guitars, moderately interesting drumming and lyrics that don’t re-align your brain but are still kinda cool. Songs about love and alcohol, lyrics you can almost make out on the first pass, a handy website for the fan; Bluepoint is timeless, they could be playing in 1977 Milwaukee or 1987 San Antonio or anywhere in between. A strong debut, but they maybe haven’t “found themselves” yet. Hope to hear more from them.

Bluepoint: www.bluepointmusic.com/bp

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Music Reviews

Hugh Wilson

Hugh Wilson

Unidirectional

Sometime during the ’90s, alternative rock and adult contemporary found common ground and a new genre was born. No, not “adult album alternative,” although that comes close. Rather, another breed of artist suddenly appeared, one without the rough edges of modern rock but not as wimpy as easy listening either. The Gin Blossoms may have been the first to achieve this, combining the bittersweet jangle of college radio with the smoothed-down melodicism of Top 40 pop. After them came Deep Blue Something, the New Radicals, and Barenaked Ladies. It was new music that made mellow thirtysomethings feel as hip as their grunge-loving offspring without becoming deaf.

Australian singer/songwriter Hugh Wilson falls into this category. Call it hot adult contemporary if you want; pick your industry lingo. Wilson has the emotionally transcendent populist rock of U2 in his bullseye. On “She’s a Sun” and “Here We Go,” Wilson grabs the microphone with the focused, fiery energy of Bono. Like Bono, Wilson can raise his voice for that moment of spiritual exhilaration.

Most of the tracks follow the same guitar-based formula although he does throw a curveball with “Free,” which is as sunny and laid back as the most relaxing of reggae tunes.

Hugh Wilson: www.hughwilson.org

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Music Reviews

The Longshadows

The Longshadows

Simple Minded Way

Uranus

The Gin Blossoms’ comeback record will be released later this summer, but until then, lead singer Robin Wilson’s side project should keep GB fans entertained. The sophisticated pop of Simple Minded Way is a slight departure from Wilson’s day job band, with the album written and produced by Steve French — formerly of Brit band Star Club.

Yet the collaboration of Wilson’s voice and French’s songs gels incredibly well on almost every song, most notably on standout track, “Wishing We Weren’t So”, the melancholic “Weight On My Mind” and the Sixties-influenced “Sail On”. The rousing chorus of “To Saione” reveals the perfect musical chemistry The Longshadows possess and the title track is yet another strong track with a slow-burning melody.

The return of the Gin Blossoms will be much anticipated by fans, but Simple Minded Way provides ample evidence that other musical avenues could be exploited by Wilson in the future if the reunion does not go according to plan.

The Longshadows: www.thelongshadows.com

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Music Reviews

Chris Tsefalas

Chris Tsefalas

I’m All Right?

In Music We Trust

Chris Tsefalas’s debut, I’m All Right?, almost never came to be. Tsefalas recorded the album in 2003, but the record was held for almost two years after five non-cancerous tumors were found on his back in 2004. After extensive surgery and ample time to recover, I’m All Right? was finally released in May of 2005. This concoction of jangle-pop in a circus-like atmosphere is a great pop record for any collection.

“I’m All Right It’s Ok” is an insanely catchy pop tune, with Tsefalas singing the chorus/title with relief in his voice. This album makes me wonder if Tsefalas would have had a good future as the next Miss Cleo. The sideshow rhythms incorporated in several of his songs, including “It’s So Clear,” “Making a Mess,” and “James,” seem to foretell the circus-like atmosphere his life would have for the next couple of years.

But despite all of the hardships that Tsefalas has endured, he has recovered completely. Which is wonderful, not only for him and his family, but for the music world. I’m All Right? is a perfect pop record, full of catchy tunes that are sugary sweet but also have the depth to keep listeners coming back for repeated listens. Here’s hoping Tsefalas doesn’t have to endure so much between now and his next album.

In Music We Trust: www.inmusicwetrust.com