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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.


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:








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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.


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:


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We All Shine On

Music Review: “Breathe Air” by the Plastic Yellow Band


Plastic Yellow Band

The name Plastic Yellow Band (PYB) practically screams “Beatles.” By the time one has listened to the first third of the album, Breathe Air, any remaining doubt is resolved. PYB’s founder, Gerry Jennings, admits to modeling the band after John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band.


The first song, “Lonely Place,” sounds a bit like Paul McCartney on piano while also being reminiscent of a late ’70s/early ’80s arena rock band’s power ballad. The second cut “She’s My Woman,” resembles a Beatles song with a Southern Fried rock twist. “Nowhere” features a sitar and George Harrison sound. “Nervous Stuff,” the fourth track, possesses the spirit of the Beatles’s “Helter Skelter”; it just so happens that the repeated lyrics might sound a bit familiar: “All you need is love.”

The album shifts gears a bit on “I Want to Feel Your Love” with Dana Rideout on lead vocals. “Love” has the countrified flavor of an Emilylou Harris song from the early ’70s.

“She Let It Down” is simply filler, while “Oil Kings” initiates the political overtones that are found throughout the rest of the album. Interestingly, “Oil Kings” sounds similar to “Nervous Stuff.” “Alone (It’s Hard)” is a mid-’80s-style pop song that I didn’t care for much. It’s notable that the lead vocal mimics the Lennon/McCartney sound to an almost greater-than-acceptable (or necessary) level.

The ninth track, “Climate Change,” clocks in at 4:45 and seems to be the band’s attempt to fashion a traditional popular single. The song has some of the dreariness, harmonies and production found on early Pink Floyd albums. And the lyrics are interesting: “Thirty years from now I’ll be just a memory/And you’ll still be around, not sure what your temperature will be.”

The Pink Floyd theme continues and deepens as Breathe Air closes with a trilogy of instrumental tracks – “Sunlight I,” “Sunlight II,” and “Sunlight III.” “Sunlight II” includes the line, “Say hello to sunlight and breathe air.” I was reminded of both Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here while listening to these closing numbers. Unfortunately, the trilogy – while creative and perhaps a bit pretentious, if not bland – threatens to lose the listener’s interest.

All in all, Breathe Air is a decently strong first effort. It runs a full 57 minutes, which makes up for the weak closing tracks. I’m hopeful that on PYB’s next release, the music will display a bit more punch, with leader Gerry Jennings more up-front, and fewer references to Jennings’s musical influences. (Imitation is not always flattery or tribute. Sometimes it’s just imitation.)

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was downloaded from the band’s website: http://plasticyellowband.com/

Dave Moyer is a public school administrator, a drummer, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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A music review! We take a look at Breathe Air by the Plastic Yellow Band.

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Music Review: “Chicago XXXVI: Now”

Chicago Now

This is the band Chicago’s first true album – album of new material – since Chicago XXX from 2006. As Chicago XXX was quite a good release, I had high hopes for Chicago XXXVI:Now. Let’s see if the hopes were realized.

Chicago XXXVI: Now opens with the title song (“Now”), which was clearly inspired by Chicago’s touring with Earth, Wind and Fire. It’s overly derivative – more imitation than tribute, and its lyrics are like a reinstatement of “Feel” from Chicago XXX. A problem arises here that affects the entire album, as the horns sometimes sound real and sometimes sound synthesized, ’80s style. It’s hard to tell when the band members are playing actual instruments and when the sounds have been computer-generated.

“More Will Be Revealed” sounds like a Terry Kath song (“This Time” from Chicago XI) but the horns are synthetic. They sound positively middle-of-the-road (MOR) on “America,” a trite song with trite lyrics: “America is free/America is you and me.” “Crazy Happy” is a boring ’70s/early ’80s style track. Where is Peter Cetera when you need him?

On “Free At Last,” Lou Pardini delivers another Terry Kath-ish vocal. But it’s on top of a start/stop multi-rhythm track that goes nowhere. And the lyrics are painfully bad: “Here’s to the future/here’s to the past….” “Love Lives On” is a ballad that might have been written by Bryan Adams – or Ryan Adams, and then set aside: “We were more than each other’s cheap attraction….” It goes on for five and a quarter minutes; it should have run no more than three and a half.

“Something’s Coming I Know,” will make the listener wonder if 1977 has returned. Tony Manero might like this, but I didn’t. “Watching All the Colors” is a Robert Lamm composition that might have fit well on Chicago or Chicago III, if it were not executed in such a boring fashion. The brass sounds like Muzak.

Fortunately, we’re getting close to the conclusion of this 50-minute album. “Nice Girl” seems to be two songs awkwardly joined together. This is the type of track one listens to once but never again. “Naked in the Garden of Allah” features an interesting Middle Eastern opening – which calls to mind Bruce Springsteen’s “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” on The Rising, but the song that follows meanders around with no apparent destination. This 11-song album concludes with “Another Trippy Day,” the best track of the eleven, but it’s a sad case of too little too late.


If there’s some good news associated with Chicago XXXVI: Now it’s that Lou Pardini – who is pictured on the far right in the photo, above – does a great job of channeling the late Terry Kath. But the band simply failed to show up this time around, and Tris Imbolden’s drumming is bland, boring and predictable. On Chicago XXX, the band displayed some guts on songs like “Feel (with Horns)” and “90 Degrees and Freezing.” That courage has dissipated and perhaps completely disappeared. How disappointing.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:


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


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A music review! We take a look at “Now” – Chicago XXXVI (36).

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Best Of All Possible Worlds

Music Review: ‘Pop/Art’ by Adrian Bourgeois (Disc Two)

Pop Art

Californian Adrian Bourgeois apparently knows where he comes from.

Adrian B 2

The second disc of Bourgeois’ 2014 release Pop/Art contains twelve songs that run 53 or so minutes. There’s much to like, and much that is reminiscent of a late ’60s/early ’70s pop sound and sensibility that puts today’s popular music to shame. And, a great deal of this features a unique and refined combination of The Byrds (especially the second track, “Better”) and the Beach Boys (especially the fourth track, “The Howling Wind”) with a Phil Spector-produced type of backdrop (especially the fifth track, “The Lost and the Free”). In terms of modern comparisons, it is like Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), with a higher voice and a tad less edge – though don’t let the voice fool you (if you look more closely at the lyrics you’ll find plenty of edge).

Take this from the seventh selection on Disc Two’s “Picture Frames”: “Now there’s poison in the wishing well/Poison in the wishing well/So you failed to say/And I’ve been drinking it all day/But it’s so nice to see you anyway/You and your picture frame.” Damn fine.

And there appear to be some Beatles influence at work as well, particularly in the sixth track “Parachutes”, in which the hooks and transitions are so smooth and cleverly constructed that Sir Paul McCartney comes to mind.

This CD is eminently listenable. This “album”, if you can still call it that, works as background music for a party or resonates at a much deeper, personal, level (should the listener choose to consider it in that manner). Many of these tracks could be included in a soundtrack for the right film.

Heavier on piano than guitar and, as stated earlier, produced on the borderline of being over-produced, the songs begin to run together by the end. One wonders if a double CD release was prudent or if some of these songs should have been saved for a follow-up release. That being said, they do hang together thematically.

The brass at the end of “Celebrate the News” (same title but different lyrics from the Beach Boys song), the blusier aforementioned “The Lost and the Free”, another change up in “Picture Frame”, and a solo-acoustic “Rainy Day Parade” help. However, by the third and second-to-last tracks on Disc Two (“Still Life” and “Sunflower”) the sound meanders a bit with the word “redundant” coming to mind. Although solid lyrics do save it from redundancy if one is willing to listen closely.


Pop/Art should appeal to a broad audience. Several of these songs could be played on WXRT in Chicago, which those of you from that area know is the only station for music lovers. It almost goes without saying – although I will say it, that Pop/Art is a very solid work of “Pop/Art”.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

Mr. Moyer is a public school administrator, a drummer who has never played with the Rolling Stones, The Who or the Beach Boys, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel. He was provided with a review copy of Pop/Art.

Pop/Art can be purchased here: http://adrianbourgeois.bandcamp.com/

You can read a review of Pop/Art, Disc One here:


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