Tag Archives: Bucketful of Brains

New Album! Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones

New to you, anyway – it came out last Fall.

But what has hit the street is the new issue of Bucketful of Brains, the great UK pop mag that has defied the odds and the decline of print journalism. Still going strong, still published on schedule, and still a place I’m proud to hang my keyboard each issue. Click here to find out more.

That’s where you’ll find my review of Mountain Jack, the album from Hans Rotenberry and Brad Jones. Any powerpop fan hearing those two names would instantly get excited; Hans has led the great band Shazam for years and Brad Jones is one of the great pop producers of our time as well as a solid artist in his own right. And while the collaboration might sound different than you would expect, it hits many of the right buttons.

Here’s my review…

Video: “A Likely Lad

Having produced four of the Shazam albums, Brad Jones knows every feint and jab that Hans Rotenberry has in his repertoire. So the pairing of bandleader and producer sounds much like you’d expect, a collaboration that draws heavily upon chunky rhythms, clever (but sometimes obtuse) lyrics and tight harmonies – not to mention song structure that draws heavily upon The Move and early Todd Rundgren. It’s a welcome return for Brad Jones, the powerpop producer who dropped the brilliant Gilt Flake on us many years ago and then dropped back out of sight like a February groundhog.

Those expecting the amp-cranking sound that the Shazam is famous for might be taken aback by the predominantly acoustic format, let alone songs like “Froggie Mountain Shakedown”. But the Americana-cum-powerpop formula suits the pair well; it’s loose and fun, and there’s enough cowbell to balance out the mouth harp. With “Count On Me”, “Likely Lad” and “It Would Not Be Uncool” they have three hit singles at my house, and hell, “Greef” is an Exile on Main Street doppelgänger as much as “Back To Bristol” recalls Alex Chilton. Take the plunge.

Mountain Jack at 50ft Records

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The Posies: Blood/Candy

Another 2010 Bridesmaid…very good, but missed the Top 25…

The Posies have been around so long and have broken up and reformed so often that it’s probably bad form to call Blood/Candy a comeback album. Isn’t that what we were supposed to call Every Kind of Light? But with their solo and Big Star efforts now put aside, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer decided to revisit their oldest muse – each other – and reanimate a collaboration that has served them since they were teenagers. Camping out in the studio to live and breathe the music, the core of Blood/Candy was created in ten days and then tinkered with via various studios, diverse instrumentation and vocal collaborators (Kay Hanley, Hugh Cornwell).

The results, although not quite derivative, are that many of the songs have a familiarity that can’t be avoided when a band’s songwriters have such widespread collaborations. The structure of the fragmented “Licenses To Hide”, oddly enough, sounds like a Billy Joel epic from The Stranger, albeit sung by angels. And while it is not a well-known song, those who know The Odds’ “Love of Minds” will do a spit-take upon hearing the refrain and rhythm of “Cleopatra Street”.

Video: “For The Ashes

“For The Ashes” lets them frame the verses in Crosby/Nash harmonies before morphing into spacey falsettos, just as “Accidental Architecture” uses those same vocal icons to launch a wordy, jazzy melody into an infectious chorus. And staying on Nash point, the boys had to be listening to old Hollies records before penning the album’s best hook in “She’s Coming Down Again”. Likewise, Beach Boys fans will no doubt be struck by the vocal coda of “Enewetak”.

The songwriting is strong, and as one would expect, the vocals and harmonies are exquisite; both Stringfellow and Auer are in top form. There will be those who still point at Dear 23 or Frosting On The Beater as the apex of their career, but slotting this one in close proximity would not be a mistake. Whether or not this is a cohesive effort from a newly focused band or a collection of tracks assembled for the occasional statement, Blood/Candy is – as the title suggests – a showcase for both their delicate fragility and their powerful pop presence.

***

This review was originally printed in Bucketful of Brains.

The Posies on MySpace

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New Album! Bleu

I was an instant fan of Bleu’s first commercial album Redhead; although it came out early in the year I predicted that it would be tough to top as the year’s best and indeed found it placed atop my Best of 2003 list. And although I enjoyed the reissue of his regional debut Headroom and the Alpacas Orgling album that his pop supergroup L.E.O. issued, they weren’t as strong. Even the highly anticipated Major Labels band (with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle) seemed to be missing the fire and with A Watched Pot Bleu seemed to be going against his own instincts to create music that would fit a more vanilla format.

So he decided to strip it all down and use Kickstarter to raise funds for a new project where he could follow his own muse and not the expectations of others.

Bingo.

Here’s my review from the current issue of Bucketful Of Brains

“Just when you think it was a waste of time / you come to find / everything was fine”.

For his aptly titled fourth album, Bleu McCauley embraced the new paradigm by choice (or by necessity) and turned to his fan base to help raise the funds to record and release the album. Perhaps it was the artistic freedom, perhaps it was the pressure to deliver, But Four is head and shoulders better than last year’s disappointing A Watched Pot. On that album it seemed as if Bleu was trying to craft radio hits to fit a more vanilla format. Here he’s relaxed and confident, and as a result the songs are vessels for his talent rather than adverts for his pop skills.

Back is the energy and passion he displayed on his astounding Redhead album, tempered by experience. What we have here is a more mature, but still exuberant, songwriter who can’t help writing ear candy, even able to get away with lyrics like “don’t ever think your shit don’t stink, ’cause everybody’s does“. Working again with producer Ducky Carlisle, the slower songs sound anthemic and the uptempo tunes jump out of the speakers. And my god…that voice! His theatrical and expressive voice can nail a slower tune; “Ya Catch More Flies With Honey Than Vinegar” flaunts his falsetto while “I’m In Love With My Lover”, a slowly simmering soul ballad, has Van Morrison written all over it.

Perhaps the uncertainty in musical direction gave cause for Bleu to think of his mortality – he sings about leaping out of the casket in “B.O.S.T.O.N.”, but even that pales in comparison to the horn-laden gospel rave-up “I’ll Be Dead In The Morning”. But Four is anything but a downer; the gauntlet thrown down in the kinetic opener “Singin’ In Tongues” gets an aptly upbeat answer in the closing track “Everything is Fine”, featuring Roger Joseph Manning.

Well, the advertised closing track, anyway – as usual, Bleu hides a gem at the end. This time it’s the 70s-ish “My Own Personal Jesus”, sure to get those glowing cell phone screens waving back and forth at concerts.

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New Album! Ian Hunter

As we approach the year end best-of lists, I’ll post reviews of a couple of more contenders for best of 2009. This review ran in the print edition of Bucketful of Brains.

Man Overboard continues the winning collaboration between Ian Hunter and producer/guitarist Andy York. And while a notch below the brilliant Rant and Shrunken Heads – two of the best albums of the decade, mind you – it’s another consistently strong effort that grows with repeated listening.

The album is a juxtaposition of sorts – half angry social observation, half resigned acceptance – with music to match. “Way with Words”, “These Feelings” and “Win It All” find Hunter in his best balladeer mode, sensitive and emotionally naked, sentiment highlighted by supportively organic instrumentation. The closing “River of Tears” uses swelling piano and organ to understate its emotional message. It’s another reminder that Hunter doesn’t get enough credit for his storytelling. Even a tossed-off shanty like “Girl from the Office” is clever enough to hook you beyond the catchy refrain, much like the tale of the leaping lothario in “The Great Escape”.

But even if the musical pyrotechnics are mostly toned down, the emotions aren’t. Railing against hypocrisy, politics and the dumbing down of culture, he asks us “leave me out of this”. His Dylanesque moments used to be blatant, but decades of artistry have reduced them to ingredients rather than recipes. If Sir Bob spewed any vitriol as caustic as “Up and Running” or “Babylon Blues” lately (“don’t try pulling me down to your level / there ain’t nothing worse than a phony ass rebel”) I haven’t heard it.

“Hope I die before I get old”. You were wrong, Pete. There’s no hit single here, but Ian Hunter, at seventy, is at the top of his game. 

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