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Strong As You

Music Review: James McCartney – Me

Me James McCartneyMe

It’s not often that a musician releases his first full album at the age of 35, but that’s the case with James McCartney. James is not related to the pop rocker Jesse McCartney, but his father once wrote a catchy tune called “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It’s said that the senior McCartney also wrote a few other songs that have been played on the radio.

Me is an album about a person facing adversity in his life. He’s not sure about his love life, his career, his familial relationships, but he tries to display a stiff upper lip: “We’re on our own and we’ve got to go on….”; “I am strong enough to make it through / I am strong enough as strong as you….”; “You think I’m going to lose / But I will win in the end….” Still, he has his doubts, “…we’ve got to go but we can’t go on forever.”

Here’s a look at the lyrics and songs on McCartney’s Me:

“Strong As You” – “It’s hard for me to say how happy I am / Happy man….” On this single from the album, James sounds like Julian Lennon and the lead guitar part that he plays will remind some of George Harrison. Badfinger also comes to mind.

“Butterfly” – “Little bird you don’t quite understand / Everything is lying in the sand….” Here James sounds more like John Lennon, especially in the phrasing, than Julian. It’s a song that might have fit on the Imagine album and there’s a trace of Dave Mason’s “Sad and Deep As You” in the melody.

“You And Me Individually” – “You and me are different / You and me were different individually….” It’s acoustic guitar opening is reminiscent of “Blackbird” from The Beatles White Album and reflects the fact that James and his father reacted in different ways to the death of Linda McCartney. The lighter than air quality of the song shows that James may have listened to Harry Nilsson’s sui generis compositions.

“Snap Out of It” – “You know that I’m not here / The candle’s burning at both ends… And I know that I can make it / And I think that I can take it / I’m not going to fake it anymore….” This is a song that’s very much in the style of George Harrison, who often mixed fear and self-doubt with grit in his compositions.

“Bluebell” – “Something pulls me close to you / Like a moth to a flame like a music box / Unwinding rewinding / I’m on my own / I’ve got to go on but I can’t go on forever….” This melodic piece sounds like a cross between two of John Lennon’s songs, “Across the Universe” and “Beautiful Boy.” It’s nicely done although the slow pace of the music to this point begins to feel plodding. A change is on its way.

“Life’s A Pill” – “…now I’m bleeding still / I know the pain will leave / When troubles disappear… Life’s a pill give it to me now.” Now the rocking begins. “Pill” sounds like a merger of “Things We Said Today,” “Running On Empty,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and it’s just a warm-up for the next track.

“Home” – “I kind of heard it on the radio / Oh my god what am I to do….” James and his musicians kick out the jams on a song that’s a melding of Wings’ “Helen Wheels,” “Magneto and Titanium Man,” and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” The drummer kicks, punches and violently pounds on the drum kit until it’s destroyed. Yes, some serious behind is kicked!

“Thinking About Rock & Roll” – “Walking around Disneyland / It’s so pretty me and Mickey the Mouse / And he turns and says / It’s so fine and it’s going to be mine / Life’s so fine and it’s already mine.” This is the “Silly Love Songs”-style track on the album. It’s a song about celebrating life and living and appreciating what one already has (rather than what one wants and desires). A bit silly, but fun.

“Wisteria” – “Baby if you know what love is for / Let me know what it means to you….” This one’s like a track from Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album. It’s pure energy. Wisteria is apparently a woman’s name, although it might refer to Wisteria Lane.

“Mexico” – “Moving down to Mexico where the women treat you right / Moving down to Mexico where no one gives a shite….” A celebration of the joys of living in Mexico; it’s no threat to James Taylor’s song of the same name and theme.

“Snow” – “Nighttime falls on Manhattan city / New York like white snow / I’m on the fence for you / I’m in the zone glancing at you / Dancing with you for the very first time / Dance for the first time….” James channels John Lennon in a stunningly beautiful piano-based composition about love and winter in New York City. It’s like a lost love song written for Yoko Ono.

“Virginia” – “…my baby’s gone and left me… She left me at the station / And I don’t give a toss….” This is a non-essential bonus track that displays the McCartneys’ wry sense of humor. It would have fit well on the Wings Wild Life album.

Me is definitely a good album, but the question is where does James McCartney go from here? He is so clearly fascinated with the Lennon sound that it might make sense for him to join with 50-year-old Julian Lennon to jointly write and record a collection of songs together.

What would they call such an album? That’s easy, Lennon & McCartney.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by ECR Music Group.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-james-mccartney-me/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-James-McCartney-Me-4637098.php

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Only Love Can Break A Heart

Brian DolzaniIfIDont-covergrab2

Music Review: Brian Dolzani – “if i don’t speak a word…”

Is Brian Dolzani’s new album a sign that the best is yet to come from this singer-songwriter?

There are certain albums that we use to mark time. Consider this chronology… In 1969, Neil Young released his first, self titled, solo album which demonstrated that he was a distinct artist apart from the Buffalo Springfield. In 1991, Matthew Sweet released Girlfriend, a mix of ballads and joyful hard rock pop that resulted in its becoming the best-selling album on college campuses that year. And in late 2012, Brian Dolzani released his lower-case entitled 12-song collection, if i don’t speak a word…

Dolzani’s website uses three words to describe his album: Introspective/Heartfelt/Intimate. It’s a start.

My first impression, upon hearing an early sampler with 5 songs from word, was that Dolzani sounds more than a bit like early Neil Young. He also has a freshness and love for his craft that calls to mind the younger Matthew Sweet. It just so happens that both Sweet and Dolzani are admirers of Mr. Young, and sing one or more of his songs when they perform live.

Dolzani has a great way with words and phrases, some of which are only caught after listening to his songs more than once: “I spent a lifetime looking for a lost clue…”, “I fell in a forest and nobody heard it…”, “History is yours to steal…”

The CD begins with “Older Now,” which sounds like a track from the Crosby, Stills & Nash album. The singer is still trying to figure out life, and we’re the beneficiaries of his confused pondering. Track two, “Reasons,” sounds like Leo Sayer in its melancholy tone and lyrics. Which takes us to “Whether or Not,” the best song never recorded by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The singer is battered and bruised by life and love’s indifference, “I lose blood and it matters not to me…” He wants to see the face of the guy who his girl now loves more than he. Although the band behind Dolzani is a bit too synchronized to be Crazy Horse, any Young fan will agree that this is a fine song in the style of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or After the Goldrush.

In “Before Midnight,” the singer asks his girlfriend to respond to his questions: “Are we still good together? Are we still in love?” Here, Dolzani comes across like an early day Jackson Browne. He interacts well with the instrumentation, singing with it and not overpowering it. “Sail This Sea,” is a divorce song that might have been written by Phil Collins. “I’ve been trying so long, and all I got was another song.”

The protagonist of “Broken” views his life as a mess, with the pieces of his body lying on the floor. The singer has been knocked down, but he’s ready to get up and rejoin life; he’s healing even if it means having to revisit “old feelings, old dreams.” It’s a Tim Hardin-style song that reminded me of “No Regrets.” In “Not As Lonely,” the protagonist tries to convince himself that his world has not ended because his lover has left him. It recalls “I Thought I Knew You” from Sweet.

“Hey Dad” is Dolzani’s tribute to his late father, a man who was not perfect. It’s enlivened by a Beatles Revolver-style backing track. “Wilted” includes a Harvest era melody harmonica, as the singer concludes (in words that almost sound lifted from Young), “Happily ever after is a fantasy…” The protagonist in Young’s “The Loner” would identify perfectly with this song.

“Fair” is about the unfairness in a relationship in which one party loves more than the other. The sentiments are similar to those on Sweet’s “Nothing Lasts” and it’s bolstered by a nice steel guitar. In the piano-based “Autumn in Central Park,” the singer expresses ambivalence about love. “Even when you know that you’re in love/There are times when you’ve had enough…”

The album concludes with “I’m Sorry Now”. The singer is down (“I’m sorry for the way I can make you feel like you’re dead.”) but there’s a tone of hopefulness for the future on the edge of his voice. It makes for a fitting conclusion to the album, except that it feels like an idea for a song rather than something fully realized.

I think most will find this to be a pleasant and enjoyable collection of songs. Its weakness is that it suffers from a lack of variety in tone. As one person remarked, “A little bit of that guy goes a long way.” On Girlfriend, Matthew Sweet sang a number of heartbreak ballads, but he also unleashed four wild and heavy rock songs, “Divine Intervention,” “Evangeline,” “Girlfriend” and “Does She Talk?” Perhaps Dolzani can find two or three lead guitarists to similarly embolden his next recording session.

Bear in mind that Brian Dolzani is a very talented and creative musician. He may now have to live with the knowledge that – as stated by the reknowned philosopher Snoopy – “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.”

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics Music site:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-brian-dolzani-if-i1/

To hear the complete album, if i don’t speak a word…, go to:

http://www.briandolzani.com/wp/listen/

A review copy of the CD was provided by a publicist.

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Doctor Wu

Red Jade: A Detective Jack Yu Investigation by Henry Chang (Soho Crime; $25.00; 256 pages)

“Killing two bad guys, taking a cold-blooded murderer home.   Not bad for a few days in Seattle, huh?”

Reading Red Jade by Henry Chang is like being on a diet of tasteless fiber before enjoying a fine helping of spicy Mongolian Beef.   The vivid cinematic ending is literally preceded by a couple of hundred pages written in a dull and plodding style.   In fact, make that plodding, plodding, plodding.

The reader will need to take a suspension-of-reality pill before accepting the story that’s told here.   New York Police Detective Jack Wu is an Asian quasi super-hero who can solve multiple crimes while spending a weekend in Seattle, Washington.   It’s so hard to believe that Yu can solve a murder that took place in New York City’s Chinatown while in Seattle that the author himself asks of Jack, “How much destiny could he take?”   Wherever Detective Yu goes, the evil people he needs to find just happen to be in the neighborhood.

It may or may not be worth mentioning that the book starts with the bloody murder of a young man and a young woman in New York’s Chinatown.   This precedes Jack’s traveling to Seattle with his sometime girlfriend (she’s there attending a legal conference), where he not only solves the case in chief, but another big one while he’s at it.   Yes, the world is just a stage for Detective Yu.

One might be tempted to think that there’s going to be some interesting scenery covered in a tale set in Seattle.   Instead, except for a few walks on very mean streets, the majority of the tale involves Jack’s stay at the Marriott Courtyard near Sea-Tac, while his girlfriend beds at the far more impressive Westin downtown.   Jack has an entire extended weekend to work his magic, which sometimes involves beating up two foes at once using his very impressive kung-fu style skills.   Sometimes, though, Jack falls back on simply shooting the bad guys when he’s not getting the best of things.   Yippee Ki-yay!, as Bruce Willis might say.

Still, credit has to be given to Chang for fashioning a surprisingly energetic and involving ending.   It’s a shame it takes one such effort to get to it.   This reader felt worn down by the telling, as if the reading took away more energy from me than it could ever hope to repay.   Chang writes in small bits and bites (some chapters covering only a single page), which makes me think his skills might be better applied to very short crime stories.   Let’s just hope that he comes up with protagonists that are more reality-based than Detective Jack Yu.  

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Said Publishers Weekly of Red Jade:  “What started as a promising series has devolved into something quite run-of-the-mill…”

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