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Shining Star

Music Review: ‘Paper Stars’ by Ryan Calhoun

paper stars r calhoun

Does the new EP of five songs from Ryan Calhoun signal a musician on the rise?

CSF Music Group has released an EP of five new songs by Ryan Calhoun.   Let’s take a look at the tracks before arriving at a judgment about the release.

“Coffee” is a cute, bittersweet, song about a shy guy who’s mentally stalking a young woman that drops into the local coffee shop each morning.   “She’s the best part of my morning/And she don’t know me yet…/She’s an addiction like a shot of caffeine/She’s the reason why/Why I drink coffee.”   You can watch the video for this song on YouTube.   It’s got a touch of Justin Timberlake in the rhythm.   It’s the deserved single.

“Just as I approach her/She’s walking out the door/And I know that I’ll be back tomorrow.”   If Starbucks ever needs a theme for a TV commercial, this should be it.

Ryan Calhoun Paper Stars

“Paper Stars” combines more Timberlake-style pop-rock with a P. J. Pacifico-like sound.   This title song celebrates the simple joys of poverty, as experienced by a young couple.   “If you threw us a party for two/But the dinner you promised fell through/You ran out of time/We had burgers and wine on the floor/And we’d drink to a quarter to four/Till we pissed off the neighbors next door…/We will never be richer than being poor.”   This one should be popular with the college music crowd.

Ryan Calhoun If I Don't

“If I Don’t” is not rock or pop, it’s modern country.   This is a song that would fit perfectly on a Keith Urban or Darius Rucker album, and it’s spiced up with a trace of Tom Petty/Dwight Yoakum attitude.   “She’s the only thing I’ve ever really loved/Maybe nothing’s ever really good enough/She went left and I went right/There’s nothing left to decide.”   The singer knows he needs to propose to the woman he’s bought a ring for, but he can’t find enough courage to do so.   And if he doesn’t, someone else will take her down the aisle. (Listen to the track on YouTube and see if you agree that Keith Urban could sell a million downloads of this song.)

“Time and December” is pure Jim Croce, a variation of sorts on “Time in a Bottle.”   It channels Croce both in the lyrics and in the guitar-led melody.   “See, I thought I’d be something worth talking about/When I found myself coming back home/The more that I wander the more that I know/The more that I know I don’t know/So let’s raise up our glasses and toast to our dreams/I hope January will listen to me/Cause this year could be heaven or it could be hell/But I guess only time and December will tell.”   Very clever and satisfying.

“Stranger” might have fit well on Billy Joel’s The Stranger album.   It sounds like Joel backed by a U2ish wall of sound.   And the lyrics paint the portrait, as Joel often does, of a character that does not quite fit in:   “Everybody knows what nobody’s talking about/By the time we open up/It’s last call and they’re closing us down…/If I go and open up would you run/Or would you just let me be?/Let me be your stranger.”   Calhoun effectively borrows a line from George Harrison and incorporates it here: “If you don’t know where you’re going/Any road will take you there.”

Paper Stars is very well produced by Bill Lefler in Los Angeles.   There are no complaints about the sound.   The issue with Calhoun is evident if you watch several of his YouTube-posted videos.   He’s a musical chameleon.   Who he is varies with each song.   His versatility is a strength, but also a weakness that needs to be addressed.   After listening to many of Calhoun’s recordings, I’m not sure who he is as an artist and performer.   As an example, “Raise A Flag” from 2012 sounds nothing like the songs on Paper Stars.

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Despite this minor critique, Calhoun’s a clearly talented musician.   Paper Stars is a fine release from a singer-songwriter about whom it can be said, the best is yet to come.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-ryan-calhoun-paper-stars-ep/

 

 

 

 

 

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Music Review: Ready to Run by P.J. Pacifico

Music Review: ‘Ready to Run’ by P.J. Pacifico (Viper Records)Ready To Run Amazon

Musician P.J. Pacifico sounds different on his new EP release. Does the change in direction work?

Singer-songwriter P.J. Pacifico is going through some changes, as reflected in his latest release, an extended play (EP) disc entitled Ready to Run. The time he spends writing songs in Nashville is now augmented by time spent in the City of Angels. The influence of Los Angeles can be seen on the cover of Ready, which pays homage to Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky album. And Pacifico is co-writing songs with the team of Garrison Starr and AG, women who also handled the production on this release.

late-for-the-sky

Pacifico has come to terms with his status as a long-term cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s disease), a theme that runs through the five songs on the EP. And he’s gone retro, focusing on capturing the sound of the 1980s on this grouping. Does it all work? Well, let’s take a look at the songs on Ready, four of which can be seen and heard on YouTube.

“All for Something” is the first track, and it opens with the sound of a heartbeat. It sounds like a Sting recording crossed with Paul Simon during the latter’s Graceland period. Pacifico is reflective as he sings: “Baby, nothing good ever comes easy/And everybody knows it/I swear it’s all for something/If you’ll keep holding on.” The song could either be about a lost love or surviving a dreadful disease. This is a song that remains with the listener for a day or two after hearing it.

“While You Were Looking Away” is like Simon melded with Browne. The lyrics are definitely Browne-ish: “Nobody could have loved you better/It wasn’t getting any easier/Oh, I ran out of reasons to stay/While you were looking away/You don’t know what you want/You don’t want what you have/And now there ain’t no one left/You can blame me for that.” Note that Pacifico feels guilt, something that’s also true on the next track.

“Among the Living” is clearly about Pacifico’s experience with disease and his guilty feelings over having survived while others did not: “I was surviving/I want to forgive myself/For I’m among the living.” It’s a good song, but it’s marred by the heavy-handed production. There’s too much bass and Pacifico’s voice is at too low a range. “Living” would have been more effective if given a George Harrison-style arrangement. Still, Pacifico gets off a great line: “The thing that might kill you/Just might save your life.” He should know.

“I Want Your Love” is the track that’s not on YouTube, but it should be. It sounds like a Bruce Springsteen composition and production, with a bit of Ryan Adams thrown into the mix. The song closes out, quite interestingly, with Beatles-like sound effects. A very effective song, it should have been the single.

“Ready to Run” closes out the set with another overly-produced song. The sounds bury the vocal and the melody. In terms of reflecting the ’80s, this comes off as more Bryan Adams (“Run to You”) than Browne (“Running On Empty”). “Ready” would have been more memorable if delivered in a humble, pensive Browne-like style.

Ready to Run

It’s understandable that artists like to change things up, and it’s admirable that Pacifico’s taken risks on this new release. But I found there’s an overall sameness to the tracks due to the heavy, boomy production. This makes listening to this EP somewhat tiring. Make that more than somewhat.

I may well be in the minority, but I’d love to see the talented Pacifico return to the quieter guitar-based, almost folk rock sound reflected on earlier songs like “Half Wishing,” “Champions and Guardians,” and the beautiful “Lakeshore Drive.” I think Pacifico is in his natural sweet spot when he’s channeling the sound of the 1960s and ’70s.

Long-time Pacifico fans will no doubt want to pick up Ready to add to their collection. For those new to him, I’d suggest sampling his work on YouTube to see if you prefer his prior or current sound.

Recommended, with some reservations.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-p-j-pacifico-ready-to-run-ep/

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

1965

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 352 pages)

1965 could have been a direct, engaging and entertaining account of that year’s music. Instead, this nonfiction story begins with Acknowledgements, a Selected Time Line, an Introduction, and a Prologue before it actually starts. The ending is, naturally, followed by an Epilogue. And instead of simply discussing the music of the 12-month period, Andrew Grant Jackson proceeds to attempt to cover all of the political and social developments of the time, with far too much attention paid to psychedelic drugs. (Boring, “oft-covered” territory.)

One or two factual errors might be excusable, as Jackson was not alive when these events occurred. But there are far too many in 1965. Jackson writes that the Beatles tried to out-jingle-jangle the Byrds with the song “Nowhere Man.” No, it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone.” He lists the Beatles’ “Think For Yourself” as a song about politics and free expression. No, it was a break-up song. He writes that the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a remake of “Baby Love” by the Supremes. Not even close. And he cites “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys as a drug song. It was a remake of a West Indies traditional folk song earlier recorded by the rather benign, innocent Kingston Trio.

There are other statements that are questionable. Jackson writes, for example, that the Rolling Stones based their single “Paint It Black” on “My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes. Maybe, maybe not. One of the highly doubtful statements made by Jackson is that Brian Wilson based his classic song “God Only Knows” on the lightweight song “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by the Spoonful. C’mon, now.

1965 is also plagued with no small amount of repetition. Jackson often makes the claim that specific rock song introductions were based on Bach’s classical music. In a couple of instances, he is likely right, but he goes on to state that this is the case for a large number of songs. Again, this is questionable.

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Every now and then Jackson does uncover something of interest. He may have discovered the song that Paul McCartney heard as a very young boy in the early 50s, which subconsciously inspired him to write “Yesterday.” Well, maybe.

aftermath-usa

The book’s subtitle claims that 1965 was the most revolutionary year in rock music. Really? Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath were released in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in 1967. I’d argue that these were the most significant, revolutionary years in rock music.

One final point is that Jackson often attempts to connect one type of music to everything else, musically and otherwise. You can love the music that Frank Sinatra recorded in the 60s without tying it to what the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones were doing at the time. There are different types of music, and some music is created without reference to the political struggles or happenings of the time.

1965 is a book that had a lot of potential. Due to its strangely formal structure and its errors, the potential was largely wasted.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 3, 2015.

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It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

(But We Like It)

It's Not Only Rock 2

It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll: Iconic Musicians Reveal the Source of Their Creativity by Jenny Boyd Ph.D. with Holly George-Warren (John Blake, $14.95, 322 pages)

A book that does not quite live up to its subtitle.

“Musicians are the mouthpieces for our age.”

“Musicians are the torchbearers, the spokespersons of our time.”

Jenny Boyd George Harrison

Jenny Boyd’s (George Harrison’s one-time sister-in-law) book might have been called Conversations Touching Upon Creativity. This is a book in which she quotes numerous musicians, including Harrison and Ringo Starr, about the magical, mystical and mystifying process of creating music. But the book only takes us to the edge of the process and never smack-dab into the middle of it (e.g., the source of creativity). Boyd, in fact, seems unable to define what creativity is or exactly how it works. And the quotes she includes are often contradictory; for example, on the effect of drugs and alcohol – some musicians see these as a boon, others as a bane.

While the book is readable and somewhat entertaining and some of the statements from major musicians are interesting, there’s far too much reliance on lesser figures. Sinead O’Connor, for example, seems to be quoted on about every second or third page. The reader would have been better served if Boyd had focused on a few particular songs or albums and discussed with their creators the steps they took from first thought to finished recording. (Not surprisingly, such books already exist.)

Boyd is caught up with exaggerating the role of modern day musicians, portraying them as societal leaders and major change agents: “Artists are not afraid to break down the old to make way for the new….” Since this is what she clearly and strongly believes, she may wish to consider writing a follow-up book about this thesis. However, this work led me to realize why even Bob Dylan has disdained the role of prophet, socio-political leader or “spokesperson for his generation.” That crown may be too heavy for any musician to wear.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Songwriters On Songwriting

Individuals with a strong interest in the subject of songwriting and creativity may want to read Songwriters on Songwriting: Revised and Expanded by Paul Zollo (Da Capo Press), which covers the topic in 752 pages.

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The Waiting

Music Review: Benmont Tench – ‘You Should Be So Lucky’

Is Benmont Tench’s solo album just competent or is it more than that?

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Benmont Tench has been in the music business for thirty-four years. As a member of the Heartbreakers, backing Tom Petty, there’s little doubt that this keyboardist’s first solo effort would display musical competence. But does it soar? Let’s take a look at the tracks on You Should Be So Lucky before arriving at a verdict.

The nearly 46-minute long album opens with “Today I Took Your Picture Down,” on which Tench provides a Bob Dylan-style vocal and lyrics: “Today I took your picture down…/The eyes that followed me around/Daring me to stare them down/Today I turned my back on you/The celebrated face that stole a piece of/Every soul that wandered through this place.”

There’s a piano sound that might have been inspired by the E Street Band. It’s a fine, confident opening that nevertheless fails to take off.

“Veronica Said” sounds as though it was recorded immediately after Tench had listened to Lou Reed singing “Sweet Jane.” Enough said.

“Eccor Rouge” is a film noir movie soundtrack-style jazzy piano instrumental. It manages to destroy whatever momentum had developed from the previous tracks. Boring. “Hannah” is a love ballad from the school of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits: “Hannah, if this is a dream/The kind that don’t come true/You’re worth every mile I ever drove for you….”

“Blonde Girl, Blue Dress” was released as a single. It sounds like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Mr. Petty on bass guitar and Ringo Starr on tambourine. It’s catchy but not quite exceptional.

“You Should Be So Lucky” is the title song and it is the highlight of the album. It’s like a lost track from a Traveling Wilburys album and contains some adult-rated language.

Tench covers the traditional “Corrina, Corrina” using Dylan’s arrangement. It comes off as flat; it does not whistle or sing. “Dogwood” is a song with religious connotations that, like its protagonist, is pretty much without direction.

“Like The Sun (Michoacan)” is a very good, very short, track that brings to mind a contented George Harrison. Unfortunately, it’s followed by “Wobbles,” another instrumental and another throwaway. On “Why Don’t You Quit Leaving Me Alone” Tench sings: “Every radio station plays the same forsaken song….” They probably would not play this Randy Newman knock-off.

“Duquesne Whistle” concludes the album. Dylan’s original bouncy version displayed moxie and sly charm, qualities that are mostly absent here. The life has pretty much been removed from the song, which is a shame. It’s a less than satisfying ending.

This album might appeal to those who are attracted to laid-back, understated and low energy recordings. However, for most listeners I fear it’s the equivalent of going to Starbucks and being handed a cup of unleaded coffee.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the record company (Blue Note).

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-benmont-tench-you-should-be-so-lucky/

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Day After Day

Music Review: Badfinger – ‘Timeless… The Musical Legacy’

Is Timeless a fitting introduction to the music of Badfinger?

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If you were not around in the ’60s and’70s, or simply did not listen to music then, Apple Records has released a compilation to introduce you to the band Badfinger, Timeless. The Musical Legacy contains 16 tracks, 14 of which were originally recorded for Apple and two for Warner. I will not revisit the sad personal story of the band as it’s well covered in Dan Matinova’s definitive book, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger (Revised Edition; 2000).

Let’s take a look at the songs on Timeless so that you can decide whether it should be in your collection. (All comments about recording sessions and band member quotes are sourced from Matinova’s book.)

Beatles Yellow Submarine

Badfinger B&W

[Look-alikes, The Beatles and Badfinger.]

Timeless opens with “Day After Day” from Straight Up, Badfinger’s masterpiece. George Harrison handled the production and played the lead guitar with Pete Ham. Harrison’s friend Leon Russell was brought in to play the piano. This remastered version allows you to hear the beautiful piano work as well as the harmony vocals.

“Without You” is the original version by the band, later covered and made into a smash single by Harry Nilsson. Badfinger’s version is understated compared to Nilsson’s dramatic take, but there’s a nice Procol Harum-style organ line that carries the song along. Ham said this about Nilsson’s version, “We knew that was the way we wanted to do it, but never had the nerve.”

Tom Evans intended “Rock of All Ages” to be a screamer in the style of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” but as recorded – with Pete Ham and Mike Gibbins – it came off like a variation on The Beatles’ “I’m Down.” This was especially true as Paul McCartney played piano on the track, which he also produced. A great live number (I saw Badfinger in Berkeley in 1972), the fine remaster allows you to hear the background vocals. “Dear Angie” was a track from the days when Badfinger was known as The Iveys. It’s a pleasant song sung by Ron Griffiths, the band’s original bass player. The tune has nice stereo sound effects, but it is far from essential.

McCartney was also involved in the song that made Badfinger famous, “Come and Get It,” which he wrote and produced. The sound is great here and McCartney proved to the doubting band members that he could fashion a hit single using sparse instrumentation: bass, drums, tambourine, and piano. It worked.

McCartney told Badfinger that “Maybe Tomorrow” was bound to be a hit single. That was not to be and today it sounds like an ornate song from the Bee Gees 1st album. “No Matter What” was a great, chunky-sounding single that reached number eight on the Billboard singles chart in 1970. It segues quite well into “Baby Blue,” the band’s best-ever, Beatles-quality single. Matinova called it “a superb showcase of Badfinger’s classic chemistry.” The version included on Timeless is the American stereo single release, which included an added snare drum. It’s snappy but the sound is fuller and richer on the Straight Up mix.

“Believe Me” is one of the best songs from No Dice. It is followed by a track from Straight Up, “Name of the Game.” The drumming gives it a “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” feel. This version comes off as a bit dull compared to the earlier version, with horns, that’s a bonus track on the remastered Straight Up CD. “I’ll Be The One” was recorded for, but dropped from, Straight Up. It should have been a single as it sounds like the Beatles doing country rock.

“Apple of My Eye” was Ham’s bittersweet tribute to Apple Records. “Suitcase” is included and it’s the right take. This is the early “Pusher, pusher on the run” version recorded before the modified “Butcher, butcher…” take found on Straight Up. It’s a heavier version and reflects what the band sounded like live. As Molland said, “The original ‘Suitcase’ was more of what Badfinger was.”

The title track “Timeless” is a good song that, unfortunately, goes on too long, dissolving into a type of Baroque Traffic jam. At 7:40 it is needlessly longer than “Hey Jude.”

“Dennis” is another non-essential track, but it’s interesting because of a few Brian Wilson-like touches. The compilation concludes with “Love Is Gonna Come At Last,” a nice, airy, pleasant pop song written by Molland that sounds like Badfinger crossed with America. This may be an alternate take from the 1979 Airwaves sessions since Matinova writes that the album version was “tepid and slow.”

Longtime Badfinger fans will have all or most of this music in their physical or digital collections. But the compilation will work for those who would like a decent sampler. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to hear Badfinger at their very best you should consider acquiring either Straight Up or No Dice (or both).

Well recommended, for its intended audience.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Apple Records.

This article was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-badfinger-timeless-the-musical-legacy/

It was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper site:

http://m.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Badfinger-Timeless-The-Musical-5144246.php

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Everything Changes

Music Review: Julian Lennon – ‘Everything Changes’ [2013 Reissue]

Everything Changes

Julian Lennon’s sixth studio album, his first since 1998, is called Everything Changes. Originally released on a limited basis in 2011, this re-release adds two bonus songs to the 12 that made up its initial pressing: “Someday” and “In Between.”

It might have been called “Entropy,” to reflect a belief in disorder or uncertainty or degradation in our personal and universal existence. Lennon is concerned about many things here. He sings that, “Nothing stays the same/When you’re lost and when you’re broken.” Interestingly, his views on the hazards of life and living are much like those expressed by James McCartney on his Me album. (Is there something about being the son of a Beatle?)

Fortunately, matters are positively resolved before the end of this 65-minute plus collection of music. Lennon concludes that, “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.” He also reminds us that, “We’re all in it together/One love now and forever.”

Here’s a look at the songs on Everything Changes, now available for downloading on iTunes and elsewhere, as well as on CD.

From the opening notes of the title song, “Everything Changes,” this sounds like a song from another Beatles-influenced musician; something that would prove to be true of other songs on this 14-track album.

On the song “Someday,” Julian joins with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to ask an interesting question: “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” Wait, haven’t we heard this before? Yes, Lennon borrows a line from a Beatles song in a tune built around a Magical Mystery Tour-style sound. Think of “I Am the Walrus” melded with “Blue Jay Way.” Having Lennon and Tyler sing together seems like something that wouldn’t work, but oddly enough it does and it works quite well.

While “Someday” is an almost joyful tune, Lennon notes that when it comes to life, “it’s just about holding on.”

“Lookin’ 4 Luv” is like a lost ’70s tune by the Beatles or Badfinger. It’s alternately sad and hopeful: “Why do you look the other way/When I’m trying to see your soul?… I’m searching in all the wrong places/I’m down but I’m fighting back again.”

“Hold On” is a piano-based tune on which Lennon sounds frighteningly like John Lennon: “Shall I give my heart to break again/Can it be real that I have lost a friend?” The recording includes a partially distorted vocal track, a technique of which John was fond. “Touch the Sky” is a composition that may have been inspired by the 2009 death of Lucy O’Donnell (the inspiration for John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”): “We all want to touch the sky/We all ask the question why/We all need a helping hand.” Lennon’s wishes in the song are in accord with the Beatles’ values: “I just hope and pray peace will come one day.”

“Invisible” is Beatlesque: “Remember love forgotten… I know that love surrounds you/It’s invisible.” Had this been recorded by the Beatles, George Harrison would likely have sung it.

“Just for You” is a track that sounds in virtually every respect, save for the absence of a keyboard instrument, like a Brent Bourgeois (“I Don’t Mind at All”) recording. Lennon sounds like Bourgeois in his phrasing and vocal inflections. There’s a soft opening, broken by a strong bridge with angst-filled and religious-inspired lyrics: “You know I’ve talked to the Virgin Mary/Prayed to the Holy Ghost/Hung with the Bodhisattva for the one I love the most/And I’ve danced with the fallen angels/Sold my soul to the shadow mind just for you.”

It turns out that there are multiple tunes in the Bourgeois style on Everything Changes. It’s best left to the listener to determine the actual number.

“Always” is a surprise with its Pink Floyd instrumentation, while “Disconnected” could have fit on either Magcial Mystery Tour or Revolver: “Cradle life and love and let it flow.” “Never Let You Go” is another song in the style of Revolver.

“Guess It Was Me” is a nice ethereal track that calls to mind Crowded House. “In Between” is a completely original song in which Lennon laments that, “Reality was only in my mind.” (This might be his “Eleanor Rigby.”)

Julian Lennon

Those who download this album might be surprised to find that the two closing songs are listed as “Track 13” and “Track 14.” Not to spoil the surprise, but track 13 is “Don’t Wake Me Up,” on which Lennon sings in the style of Harry Nilsson. Track 14 is “Beautiful,” a very moving and heartfelt tribute to Julian’s father: “The feeling still remains/(Though) you’re on a different plane.” It’s a song of resolution and perhaps redemption.

Lennon has said that the songs on this release have “a dreamy, floaty quality.” This highlights one of the album’s flaws, a sameness to the ballads which can become wearisome. If only he had skipped one or more of the spacey songs and included a flat-out rocker like “Day Tripper,” “Helter Skelter,” or “Johnny B. Goode.” These are songs he’s performed gleefully on stage.

While Everything Changes falls short of being essential, it’s very close to being an excellent album and is well recommended.

Lennon is the son of a late musical legend. He shines on in his own way.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

Music Review: Julian Lennon – ‘Everything Changes’ [2013 Reissue]

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