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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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Worth Waiting For

Tomorrow and Tomorrow (large)

Tomorrow and Tomorrow: A Novel by Thomas Sweterlitsch will not be released by G. P. Putnam’s Sons until July 10, 2014. But you might want to put it on your to be read/purchased list now. This is an extraordinarily unique science fiction-like work set in the future. It is a time when each person in the United States has an Adware personal computer system installed, literally, in their brains. And everything that happens in this brave new world is captured on camera – including every transaction at every Starbucks, allowing persons to magically visit the cities and people of the recent past via fully interactive, 3-dimensional hologram-like, digitally stored recreations.

It’s been a full decade since the entire city of Pittsburgh was destroyed in a mysterious explosion, with all of its residents killed. John Dominic Blaxton survived because he was attending a conference in Columbus, Ohio at the time. He lost his wife in the tragedy and his mourning has led him to battle the demons of depression and drug abuse.

Blaxton, who investigated mysterious deaths for State Farm Insurance, comes to lose his job and enters a court-ordered rehabilitation program. He eventually gets the chance to become a respectable citizen again, but only if he can find the missing daughter of a very rich, successful and powerful figure. Unfortunately, someone has been working very hard to delete all evidence of this young woman’s existence. Can Blaxton find her and save her, in the process saving himself?

Joseph Arellano

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Split Decision

The sub-title of Trade-Off is “Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t.”   It is a title that describes the book itself, which both worked and didn’t work for this reader.   In it Kevin Maney describes “the ever-present tension between quality and convenience” in the business world.   A better way of understanding this is his statement that companies can either be needed or loved…  Something he explains by looking at numerous companies that made the mistake of trying to be both needed and loved.

One clear example is Starbucks.   The company went from being a dependable brewer of bold coffee in select locations to – seemingly overnight – a company whose “shops” were everywhere; a company that tried to sell its customers everything from books to records to dishware.   Its standard mission of selling bold coffee seemed to be lost in its great expansion plans.   By getting bigger, Starbucks became smaller in the eyes of its customer base.   And its exclusivity – its value – was lost.

Think of Nordstrom.   If Nordstrom suddenly expanded to the point where you could find one of its stores next to every 7-11 or Wal-Mart, what would you think about it?   At the least, one would think that it had become ordinary and that something must be “wrong” with the merchant.   This illustrates another accurate point made by Maney, “Great companies figure out what they can do better than anyone else in the world, and then relentlessly focus on that.”

Yes, but the all-too-great temptation is to try to do other things, new things, and this is where companies from Motorola (RAZR, anyone?), to Starbucks, to Coach and Tiffany have stumbled.   Right this minute I see the same thing happening with Target, which has gone from being a solid purveyor of quality mid-level customer goods to one which is a sad knock-off of Wal-Mart.   Someone at Target’s corporate headquarters has decided to not let Target be Target, which is unfortunate.

So Maney does a fine job when it comes to making the point, repeatedly, that a business can offer either quality or convenience – it cannot do both.   Many will try to cross the line from quality to convenience – Starbucks again being the best example – and pay a high price for it.   And does anyone remember Krispy Kreme?

About four-fifths of the way through Trade-Off, however, Maney begins drinking his own Kool-Aid.   He began the book by being needed and he succumbs to trying to be loved, giving the reader his prognostications – his guesses – as to how certain businesses can be “fixed.”   His writings become rather silly at this point.   He jumps into the health care debate and decides that “doc in the boxes” are the future, notwithstanding that this trend came and went in the 80s and 90s, and the facts – as he admits – are that they tended to be cash-only enterprises (which does not help those without health insurance) staffed by nurse practitioners and R.N.s rather than licensed physicians.

Maney also goes on to describe the current circulation problems with newspapers.   As a former reporter, his solution is for newspapers to target boomers in their print version, and young people with jazzy internet versions.   This is just plain ridiculous.   Young people avoid certain papers because they’re seen as irrelevant to their own lives.   In my own community of  Sacramento, for example, the alternative Sacramento News & Review sells more advertisements every week, while our mainstream paper claims it cannot find sufficient advertisers due to the recession.   Right… 

There’s simply no way a mainstream newspaper is going to design a website that attracts young readers who are avoiding that paper – that outdated (and un-cool) brand – in droves.   A better solution would be to de-construct what it is that makes the alternative paper attractive [hint: it has an attitude] and attempt to imitate it, although it is probably too late in the day for many of today’s – or rather yesterday’s – newspapers.   It may simply be that their time has come and gone.  

Near the end of Trade-Off  Maney writes, “I hope the trade-off was worth it.”   In the case of this $23.00 list book, the answer is no.   This likely would have made a great airline magazine article, good for passing a half-hour or 45 minutes in the air.   As a business-consumer psychology survey, it winds up being simply ok.   Maney lost more than he gained by going past the book’s logical ending point and filling it with stuffing.

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t by Kevin Maney.

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