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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.

ryan-calhoun-color-lo

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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White Flag

Did Dido include too much or not enough of her music on a greatest hits collection?

Dido Greatest Hits 2

I’ll admit to being a big fan of Dido. A few years back, I took time off from work in order to purchase her then-latest CD at the very hour of its release. That was Don’t Leave Home, which had some good songs. However, the album was overly compressed so that it sounded both loud and lifeless. Fortunately, bad sound is not a problem with Greatest Hits. (Most of the songs sound glorious in this edition, but no one is credited with the mastering.) As we will see, another issue comes to the fore with this 18-track, over 76-minute long compilation.

Dido singles

To her credit, Dido provides background information on most of the songs in this collection and confirms that she selected them and placed them in chronological order. One thing that’s clear on a first listen is that her best songs were created between 1999 and 2008. Later compositions are unimpressive. Although not mentioned in Dido’s notes, four songs in this collection (“Thank You,” “Sand In My Shoes,” “Don’t Believe In Love,” and “Everything To Lose”) are based on unique ’80s rhythms that appear to borrow from the work of Sade.

Greatest Hits kicks off with “Here With Me.” It’s now obvious how much this sounds like “White Flag,” her mega-hit that followed four years later. As with all of the songs on Greatest Hits, the stereo separation is excellent and the sound is full. “Hunter” is a stunning, dramatic song about a woman who feels like she’s nothing more than prey to a man. “White Flag,” which was the “Every Breath You Take” of 2003, sounds rich and bold, so much so that it’s as if one has never heard it before. (The programmed percussion is now audible.) Impressive.

“Life For Rent” follows, with drums played by Andy Treacey. “I still don’t live by the sea but I wish I did,” adds Dido in the notes. “Don’t Leave Home” now sounds fine. This is not a song about travel. It is actually a song about addiction, in which a young woman offers her love to a man as a replacement for his drugs. The lyrics are casually and coolly brilliant, in the style of Joni Mitchell: “I arrived when you were weak/I’ll make you weaker, like a child/Now all your love you give to me/When your heart is all I need.”

“Quiet Times” is a throwaway lullaby, but worth listening to as Dido plays the drum kit. One of the highlights of the collection is “Grafton Street,” a touching song (never released as a single) about a woman mourning the death of her father. Dido refers to it as “the most emotional” of her compositions. The ever-excellent Mick Fleetwood provides the drumming.

Dido 1

“No Freedom,” from 2013, sounds pretty weak and unimaginative. “End Of Night” comes off as a poor man’s version of Abba. Sigh. It may be that Dido has become too eclectic, or adopted eclecticism for its own sake in order to ward off attacks that her songs are too similar. And it gets worse with three songs on which she pairs with others: “Let Us Move On,” which includes a rap from Kendrick Lamar, “One Step Too Far” with Faithless, and the painful-to-listen-to “Stan” with Eminem. These three selections take up about 14 minutes. They all should have been dumped.

The compilation recovers to some extent with the penultimate song, “If I Rise,” with A. R. Rahman. It sounds like a Sting outtake, but grows on the listener. “Rise” was nominated for an Academy Award (used in the film 127 Hours). And then there’s “NYC,” the Euro disco closing track that sounds like the Bee Gees circa 1977. One can almost visualize Tony Manero dancing to this in his white disco suit!

Greatest Hits again proves the dictum that sometimes less is more. As a collection of 14 singles with a bonus track (“Grafton Street”), it would have been a perfect sampling of Dido’s music career. This 18-track compilation may give her fans and new listeners more than they bargained for. Still, if you’re willing to skip past three less-than-artistic recordings, it’s a worthwhile addition to your music library.

Recommended, with reservations.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by RCA Records.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-dido-greatest-hits/

This review also appeared on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer site:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Dido-Greatest-Hits-5176380.php

You can hear a sample of each of the 18 songs here:

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