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Music Reviews

Grace Potter

Grace Potter

Midnight

Hollywood Records

I wonder if Grace Potter is taking a page from the Neil Young playbook. When Neil releases a solo album, you never know what you’re going to get. He could be giving you an acoustic hippie revere, a techno geek romp or maybe some mangled electric guitar experimentation. When Neil brings out Crazy Horse, you can pretty well count on a rough and ready rock and roll record. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have cultivated a loyal following with a blues-based rootsy rock sound and an electrifying stage show. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are a dependable, mid-level act that can fill theater and festival stages around the world. Where do they go from here?

“Forgive me if I’m not myself tonight” are the first words Grace sings on Midnight. You can feel the continuity to her earlier work in Potter’s voice, the way she crafts a song and the fire in the instrumental breaks. “Alive Tonight” picks up from where The Lion, the Beast, the Beat left off. It’s got the driving rock sound, even if it is polished to a high sheen. When Grace channels mid-career Madonna on “Delirious” we know we’re heading into the mainstream. “Your Girl” is a complicated relationship tale with a protagonist reluctant to get into an affair with a guy because she likes his girlfriend, played out over a funky groove that could have originated in the Orlando boy band factory in the ’90s. It’s a catchy tune.

So Midnight is Grace Potter’s shot at the pop brass ring. Will she find a legion of new fans? Will Grace’s long time fans be willing to take this ride with her? We will find out soon enough.

www.gracepotter.com

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Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

2011 Grammy Nominees

Columbia Records

The Grammys are back, and this year the nominations are actually pretty good (no Nickelback, or anything of the sort for the most part). The top four categories are pretty close with no clear-cut front-runner and no one that is glaringly misplaced (with the exception of Justin Bieber in the Best New Artist Category). So when the Grammys released their annual nominations album, I was pretty stoked because with all the good nominations, there was a plethora of great songs to choose from. The Grammy Academy did not disappoint… for the most part.

All five nominees for Song of the Year are accounted for and all five are great songs. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs’ “Beg Steal or Borrow” is a great folky song, but it lacks the power of the other nominees. “Need You Now” by 2010 Best New Artist winner Lady Antebellum was one of the best songs of 2010 and has the staying power to become one of those songs that will continue to be popular for years. “The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert is one of those songs that sneaks up on you with its quiet intensity, while Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” (featuring Rihanna in a perfect collaboration) could possibly be the most intense song that he has written, which is saying something. It’s also quite possibly his best, which is also saying something. But the winner should go to Cee-Lo Green and his Motown throwback “F— You,” or on the nominee’s album edited version “Forget You.” Who else could combine true R&B, make it sound fresh, include lines like “She likes X-Box and I’m more Atari,” and have the mother of all dirty words in the title and get it nominated for two of the top prizes in the industry?

Record of the Year is the exact same lineup except “Beg Steal or Borrow” is supplanted by “Nothin’ on You” by B.O.B. featuring Bruno Mars, and “The House that Built Me” is replaced with the stellar Jay-Z & Alicia Keys duet “Empire State of Mind.” The only problem: The latter track isn’t on the album. I would have put “Empire” on the album instead of “Nothin’ on You,” but I’m not a member of the Academy either. Winner of this one should be Cee-Lo, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eminem walk away with either this or Song of the Year.

Each Album of the Year nominee is represented, as well with Eminem and Lady Antebellum already accounted for. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” (with Snoop Diggity Dogg) mars the competition by injecting it with an overrated and overplayed track that wasn’t even that good to begin with. They should have gone with “Firework,” but since the former is nominated in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, they must have felt obligated to include it. That’s too bad. But redemption is had in the form of the immensely covered “Telephone” by Lady Gaga with Beyonce and “Ready to Start” by Arcade Fire. The fact that Arcade Fire was nominated proves that the Grammy voters have taste. They won’t win, but being nominated in the biggest category is something to be proud of. This year is Eminem’s year. He will take this award home and deservedly so.

Best New Artist isn’t represented at all and I’m okay with that. Out of Justin Bieber (hold back the vomit), Drake, Florence & the Machine, Mumford & Sons, and Esperanza Spalding, the only one that I really like is Mumford & Sons and I think they will take this as their popularity is skyrocketing right now. Drake is the only one who could possibly take this one away, but I just don’t see it.

The Academy didn’t try too hard to fill the rest of this compilation. Instead of cherry-picking some of the better leftovers (like B.O.B’s “Airplanes Part II” featuring Hayley Williams of Paramore), they took a couple of categories and emptied them out. Best Male Pop Vocal has all five nominees on the album, but I could have lived without Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet,” Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want from Me,” or Michael Jackson’s “This Is It.” Bruno Mars is already represented and I didn’t need “Just the Way You Are” on this. John Mayer’s “Half of My Heart” is the only one that I actually would have put on the comp. Coincidentally, it is also the song that I think will win the category.

The other category that was pilfered was Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and with the exception of Paramore’s “The Only Exception,” this category flat-out sucks. A Glee song? Really? They couldn’t find any other songs to nominate? A horrific live version of Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister”? I’m a huge Train fan, but this particular version has lead singer Pat Monahan trying to hit the notes like a blindfolded three-year-old trying to hit a piñata. He’s all over the place. I thought Sade was one person, but here she is. Apparently she multiplied. And Maroon 5 just sucks. Can we all agree on that? Paramore better take this.

There are definitely songs I’d subtract and others I’d add (like Kings of Leon’s “Radioactive” and “Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons), but the whole point of the compilation is to get some of the more popular songs together and get you psyched for the Grammy Awards. While the show is trying to get back to relevancy after several years of ignoring anything good and giving awards to undeserving artists, songs, and albums over far superior ones (Ray Charles’ Genius Need Company over Green Day’s American Idiot for album of the year, John Mayer’s “Daughters” pilfering Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” for Song of the Year and Maroon 5 over Kanye West for Best New Artist come immediately to mind), the Academy is getting better. Now if we could add a little more diversity to the nominees album.

Grammy: www.grammy.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Stranded in Stereo

Stranded in Stereo

Stranded in Stereo Volumes 9 & 10

Stranded in Stereo

If you are looking for a great compilation of new music from bands that most have never heard of (with a DVD of music videos to boot), then look no further than Stranded in Stereo. Four times a year they put out a compilation of great music of all genres in both CD and DVD formats. Combined it’s roughly 40 songs from 40 different artists per volume. Volumes 9 and 10 are both chock full of great music (and some filler). And to top it all off, it’s free!

The CD on Volume 9 runs the gamut of genres… and great music. The first five songs are enough to get this volume started beginning with the Strokes-meets-Jayhawks “Paralyzed” by Elf Power, followed by South’s straight-up indie pop “Better Things.” Then things start rocking with the punk veterans Goldfinger and their powerful “One More Time.” But then they bring it down with the critically-acclaimed folkie Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” and Katy Perry’s poppy “UR So Gay.” Throw in “Mixed Up SOB,” the latest from The Presidents of the United States of America and “Requiem for a Dying Song” by Irish punks Flogging Molly and you have a great compilation just waiting to be unveiled.

And there’s still the DVD to go! While this DVD isn’t one of the better ones that they’ve had, it still has some great videos including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Dig, Lazarus, Dig.” I also discovered two fantastic groups from the DVD that I had never heard before, but now really like. The power pop of “Sell Out” by Sounds Under Radio had me hooked from the flashing lights of the video. It also includes the schizophrenically brilliant “Love Me Dead” by Ludo. The best video, and song, on this compilation is Virginia Coalition’s “Sing Along.” An achingly beautiful composition about love and loss, the video perfectly captures the mood of the song and has made me a big fan of the group after about a dozen listens.

Volume 10 has its share of goodness too. On the CD side, new wave is represented by Don Juan Dracula on “New Sensation,” KaiserCartel showcases a very Mates of State-ish “Oh No,” while Katy Perry contributes her second (and better) song “Fingerprints.” The DVD is filled with great videos including the circus-like “Snakebite” by Gabby Young & Other Animals and The Trews’ deceivingly-titled hard rocker “Hold Me in Your Arms.” The highlights, however, are “Go to Hell,” — which has David Ford doing his best Keller Williams by playing about a dozen instruments including kitchen utensils — and Bang Camaro’s “Pleasure (Pleasure).” Now the song itself is your basic hair band fist-pumping anthem, but the video is done as if it was on the game Rock Band. To top it all off, the guys from the Orange County Choppers try their hand at it and in the end, they trash the controllers. Now that’s rock and roll.

Stranded in Stereo is all about new music from artists that you may not have heard of. Just sign up on their Web site and you’re good to go. You may not like every song and you probably won’t agree with what I like or your friends like. But that’s what makes these compilations so fun. Finding those artists that you will get hooked on, and if you can find a couple of new artists that you really like, then the people at Stranded in Stereo have done their job, and kept you coming back for more.

Stranded in Stereo: www.strandedinstereo.com