Tag Archives: Fastball

T.G.I.F. – Top Ten Albums of 2009

Someone always disagrees

As you may or may not know, scrambling to assemble a Top Ten list of the year for anything is a pain in the ass, since many times eligible films and albums don’t come out until December. For that reason (let’s put procrastination aside for a moment) my deadline has always been Super Bowl Sunday, which use to be sometime in January. This year the Gods of Sport have decided to move the game back into February, probably to pretend its part of the Winter Olympics. And with all the wonderful decisions they have been making, who are we to question the brilliance of network television executives? 

But each year the deadline for the Village Voice gets earlier. So while I am still filtering through decisions on the lower end of the top forty, the Top Ten is cut in stone. (The full list will be available after the Super Bowl.)

I’ve already posted reviews for some of these albums, others will be forthcoming (some are not yet published in the respective magazines they were submitted to). So without further ado, I hereby announce my choices for the Top Ten Albums of 2009: 

  

One : Love and Curses (The Reigning Sound) 

Two: Lions in the Street (Lions in the Street) 

Three: National Champions (Olympic Ass Kicking Team) 

Four: 1372 Overton Park (Lucero) 

Five: Learning Love (Bobby Emmett) 

Six: More Like Me (Webb Wilder) 

Seven: Tinted Windows (Tinted Windows) 

Eight: Little White Lies (Fastball) 

Nine: Spills and Thrills (John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives) 

Ten: House To House (Tripwires) 

 

Link to my Village Voice Pazz & Jop ballot

My centricity rating, or how far off center my choices are. (Very

*** 

R.I.P. – the Greta Garbo of authors, J.D.Salinger 

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Bands/Artists I Miss

Well, reunited without all that cheesy drama, anyway

Seems like everyone is getting back together these days, whether for money or a shot at career closure; some are actually reinvigorated and creating viable new music. So if you are pining the loss or lethargy of a favorite band or artist, there’s hope.

(Of course, nothing would be better than the three guys in the forefront of this picture sharing a stage again. Maybe if I leave that tooth under my pillow…)

Doesn’t have to be someone on a Van Halen level. For example, Fastball thought they had taken a long enough hiatus and decided to regroup – the result was a great new record. So why not our favorites?

So here’s ten acts right off the top of my head that are dormant; I wish they were making records right now. At least I have the fruits of their labor to date to savor over and over again. If any of these are new to you, please check them out. Maybe it will make you revive a few of your own favorites.

Because that’s the beauty of legacy. It’s right there.

Redd Kross:  Congrats on the new baby and all, but come on – make an album!

Cotton Mather:  Living on in other bands, but Kon Tiki is godhead.

The Pursuit of Happiness:  Too good to be satisfied with reunions.

The Tories:  So promising. So good. What happened?

Liquor Giants:  How about Something Special for the Adults?

World Party:  This generation’s Klaatu, the homage must go on.

Jen Trynin:  Disillusioned the first time, suck it up and get back out there.

Love NutAndy Bopp, put Myracle Brah aside and rock me again.

Tonio K:  I know you’re sitting on pure gold. Share it, brother.

The Montgomery CliffsJoey Salvia is solo but a reunion would be magic.

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Blast From The Past – Marvelous 3

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Everybody knows Butch Walker now – he’s the go-to producer for a legion of hitmakers from Pink and Avril Lavigne to Pete Yorn and The Donnas. But ten years ago, he was cutting his teeth as the leader and frontman of The Marvelous 3, a band that combined the irresistibe elements of The Who and The Jam with a Beatle-esque hook and a clever sense of humor.

Their first record (Hey! Album) was a smash on Planet Bristol. Here’s my review from 1999, first published in Consumable Online. My prediction for the album’s big success fell short, but the guy behind it wound up vindicating me:

consume-icon

Now we’re talking! If you ever need to define the epitome of power pop to someone, all you’re going to need is a copy of Hey! Album and a loud stereo. The three piece Atlanta band is well schooled in the college of Cheap Trick, Rubinoos, The Sweet, and The Cars, as well as lesser known purveyors like The Beat Angels and Shazam. In other words, great harmonies, sharp drumming, a solid bottom, big guitar and hook after hook after hook. Get those mopey shoe-gazers off the stage, because power pop rules again!

“Freak Of The Week” seems to have grabbed the initial headlines with its Cars-like riff, but “You’re So Yesterday” is equally strong, handclaps and doo-doo-doo background vocals that should make listeners run to turn up the volume. “Write It On Your Hand” is a major player, pulsating beat leading to a call-and-response chorus worthy of The Knack, or The Jags, or Jellyfish … damn, there I go again. But it doesn’t matter if it’s the psychedelic “Lemonade”, the bouncy “Mrs. Jackson” or any other track – each of the twelve songs is bursting with energy and personality. Guitarist/songwriter Butch Walker, bassist Jayce Fincher and “Slug” the drummer pack a wallop and nail three part harmonies throughout the record.

Every power pop record comes complete with the big slow-dance anthem, and that’s “Let Me Go” – an arena ballad with sweeping falsetto vocals. I can see the Bic lighters and the swaying crowd already. My favorite is the irresistible “Vampires In Love”, which mixes clever but goofy lyrics with an absolute killer hook that you’ll be singing in your sleep.

Last year pop bands like Fastball and Semisonic got an opening and exploded onto the charts. It stands to reason that some programmer won’t need the Homer Simpson head-slap to realize that there’s an audience for energetic, exciting music. If this record isn’t a bonafide smash, bleeding out of radios four tracks deep, something is very, very wrong.

Fan website

Marvelous 3 wiki

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New Album! Fastball

Make Your Mama Proud all over again

Make Your Mama Proud all over again

Has it really been eleven years since Fastball gobbled up everyone’s attention with “The Way”? All The Pain Money Can Buy was massive, with several tracks (“Fire Escape”, “Sooner or Later”, “Which Way To The Top”) blasting from every car radio, walkman and video channel for almost a year. Simply put, it was a monster album that should have greased the skids for an easy ten year ride, the kind that lame bands like Creed and Nickelback seem to have blackmailed their way into.

But nooooooo.

The follow-ups were good records, but each seemed to fall further off the radar despite solid songwriting from Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo. The music scene was changing and the labels were starting to free-fall. Perhaps it was backlash after their success; more likely there was no common place to promote a band that echoed the inventiveness of The Beatles with a sound that was equal parts garage and powerop. The Harsh Light of Day was as good or better than its predecessor, but sold poorly, and I don’t even know anyone who owns 2004’s Keep Your Wig On besides me. As a fan, even I was stunned to dicscover a live album earlier this year…four years after its release.

So don’t feel bad if your first thought upon hearing about Little White Lies is “they’re back?” Short recent hiatus notwithstanding, Scalzo, Zuniga and drummer Joey Shuffield have been throwing Fastball at you all along, and I’m glad to tell you that their heater still smokes.

Stripped down, straight-ahead and instantly infectious, “All I Was Looking For Is You” grabs you from the first note and leads the charge. Alternating poppy rockers and midtempo shuffles (“The Malcontent” is kissing cousins to “The Way”), eleven of the cuts on Little White Lies wisely dance around the three minute mark. With trademark harmonies and airtight musicianship intact, several tracks beg for the kind of exposure that their older hits received. While Fastball still channels classic pop bands in ther sound, their Texas roots flavor the stew (“Angelie” even boasts accordion).

The title track is killer; alternating a Lennon-esque rant with creative harmonies against a soulful dance beat (!) before tripping headlong into the acoustic snap of “Mono To Stereo”. My favorite is “We’ll Always Have Paris”, a perfect cross between Ian Hunter and Bob Dylan with la-la-la-la vocals and a short burst of a guitar solo that Mick Ronson would have been proud of. “She’s Got The Rain” has the bounce and piano-based pomp that Paul McCartney used to make a living from. And while “Rampart Street” may rehash a chord structure that’s been used a million times before, it sounds fresh and bright thanks to a sparkling guitar break and yes, those harmonies. The closer, “Soul Radio”, starts out like a darker tune but layers peel back until it immerses you in a more complex but equally irresistible vibe.

Fastball fans will be thrilled; those who only knew the massive hits need to get on board with the rest of us. Little White Lies sounds great (kudos, Bob Clearmountain) and is on my short list of candidates for the Best of 2009.

Visit Fastball’s official website.

Fastball on MySpace.

“The Way”?  Oh yeah… that video. Same song live, from 2007.

Sooner or Later we’ll get some videos from the new album.

But while we wait…how about a streaming concert from NPR?

*

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Tributes

I got a couple of emails from readers of yesterday’s post who were loving the Beatles cover comp and asking about tributes, since I’m on record as an obsessive fan of such efforts. On more than one occasion I’ve made my mixtape entry a covers collection (even pilfering a Replacements track title – I’LL BE YOU – for one of the more recent efforts) and I always love when I get them in return. (I’ll have to dig up that comp and post it here in the near future.)

I’ve found that the best ones are usually from independent projects on small labels where the scope will go outside the artist roster. By licensing tracks from other worthy bands that would appeal to the same audience as the internal ringers, the label is saying “we are putting the project first” rather than “this is a cheesey effort to get even the crappiest band on my roster some attention“. Frankly few of these get airplay anyway, so those weaker efforts just wind up in the band’s garage where they belong.

The major labels often blow it as well; too often their efforts wind up using big name artists that have no clue. Of course, with their overhead mapped against the unlikely hit potential, these are not frequent releases. But like the tiny labels trying to build around one good band with filler, the big boys have proven that they’re equally adept at creating a PLE (painful listening experience).

A list of the greatest tribute albums ever deserves more time and thought than I have to spare right now, but I do want to float out a couple of my favorites as well as clue you in to a little known collection assembled by a fellow blogger. These aren’t necessarily the five best, although my favorite tribute ever is included. 

Winner and still champion

Winner and still champion

SING HOLLIES IN REVERSE (eggBert): A majestic collection of power-pop artists including Bill Lloyd, Jon Brion, The Wondermints, Mitch Easter, Tommy Keene and Material Issue. Compiled by the late Greg Dwinnell, this was an all-hits no-misses effort where even the artwork and liner notes were first rate. Greg’s eggBert label also issued a wonderful Bee Gees tribute called MELODY FAIR that was almost as good.

Kovering the Klassics

Kovering the Klassics

THIS IS WHERE I BELONG (Rykodisc): Steve Forbert, Jonathan Richman, Bill Lloyd (the KING of tribute album appearances), Fastball, Fountains of Wayne, Cracker, Minus 5…a solid list of great commercial bands drawing from one of the Koolest Katalogues around. A little better than GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT, which was released around the same time, although “Ring The Bells” by The Model Rockets from the latter might be the best cut of all. (If you can find a copy of SHANGRI-LA on Communion Records, that’s also highly recommended! (Note – if you listen to the Amazon clips, realize that the matchup of artist and song is incorrect).

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

Whipped Gum and Other Delights

RIGHT TO CHEWS (Not Lame): For the bubblegum pop listener in all of us, Not Lame’s impeccable release was complied by John Borack (longtime reviewer and author of Shake Some Action) and features some of the best artists in the current power-pop scene.  Great takes on The 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express and Tommy Rowe by Michael Carpenter (genius) , Walter Clevenger (ditto), The Lolas and others. Not Lame has released several great tribute albums for artists as diverse as Gene Clark, Jeff Lynne/ELO and The Cars, among others; every one of them has several chestnuts worth roasting.

Bone Up on these great covers

Bone Up on these great covers

While you’re waiting foa any of the above to arrive in the mail, why not enjoy a great tribute mix right now? Angelo from Power Pop Criminals assembled these brilliant cover comps that are available as free downloads. And on that same page, the excellent rarity and out-of-print Bobby Fuller Four tribute OUR FAVORITE TEXAN.

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