Tag Archives: Mike Viola

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! Magic Kids

A breath of fresh air, yet from a time capsule.

The minute I heard sleigh bells on “Phone”, the opening cut from Memphis, I thought I had put the wrong disc in the player and wondered how the Phil Spector Christmas Album had gotten in the wrong jewel case. But before that thought even completed, I realized that this irresistible sunshine pop song was not one of those 60s holiday treats, but instead a blend of Brian Wilson, 60s AM radio and contemporary pop artists like Mike Viola and Mark Bacino.

And after Memphis dazzled me with a 1-2-3 peppering of bouncy pop nuggets, the Wilson DNA bleeds into a soul falsetto; the string-laden, handclap-propelled “Hideout”. “Summer” follows, and five songs into an eleven track album you’ve forgotten all about them paying tribute, and realize that Memphis simply used Wilson and Spector for a springboard. The arrangements are intricate, the melodies are infectious, and even when the lyrics might fall a little short, the vocals from Bennett Foster sell them anyway.

But if you do want that perfect mix of Phil and Brian, look no further than “Hey Boy”, complete with call-and-response vocals and…yes, those sleigh bells.

Video: “Hey Boy

I don’t know where these guys came from, nor do I know where they’re headed, but Memphis is certainly going to be on my list of the Best Albums of 2010. Summertime record my ass, this will be worthwhile any time you decide to reach for it.

Listen to clips at Amazon 

 
 

 

Made for summer, but good all year long.

 

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Daunting Dates

November 5th is one of those dates that makes one wonder whether the stars truly do align; a cluster of famous people’s births, deaths or accomplishments sharing the same 24 hour cycle albeit years apart. Not ready to believe my always-too-generically-positive horoscope just yet, but whether coincidence or fate, there’s no denying the facts.

Actually, it’s one of those days where I could have lowered the bar and listed another two dozen people famous for one thing or another. But when you combine the man who popularized slapstick comedy, a rebel drawn and quartered for trying to overthrow a government, one of the most ferocious rock’n’roll talents of the 70s and 80s and…hell…the man who invented time travel, why lower your standards?

So here are Ten Daunting Dates from history, all of which occurred on November 5th. Have a great weekend!

(01) 1605 The Gunpowder Plot…a conspiracy of men try to blow up the House of Lords and put an end to big government; now we do this with Tea Parties. Of course today they commemorate the event and celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks. Brits love their irony.

(02) 1931 Ike Turner is born…We lost Ike three years ago, but his musical legacy lives on. A violent and misogynistic man, he nevertheless discovered a ton of musical talent – hello, Tina – and is one of the forefathers of rock’n’roll.

(03) 1941 Art Garfunkel is born…Yes, Paul Simon wrote all those brilliant songs, played the guitar and even sang well. But Artie had the voice of an angel and his harmonies made those songs come alive. The coda to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” still gives me goosebumps.

(04) 1942 George M. Cohan dies…known best as the patriotic composer of wartime anthems, Cohan dominated Vaudeville and Broadway and was one of the pioneers of musical comedy theatre. James Cagney won his only Best Actor statue for portraying him in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

(05) 1943 Sam Shepard is born…Brilliant playwright and actor, among many other talents.You know some of his plays like True West and Buried Child and his many acting roles (most famously Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff) but did you know his early science fiction play inspired Rocky Horror?

Cosmic American

(06) 1946 Gram Parsons is born…Hard to believe Parsons crammed it all in before he died at twenty-six, but you can trace Americana and Alternative Country music right back to his doorstep…not to mention the twang that the Rolling Stones ingested into their sound in the early 70s. A genius.

(07) 1946 Herman Brood is born…The junkie/porn star/rocker leapt to his death nine years ago leaving behind a legacy of music and art that sadly never found an audience in the states. But I will put Cha Cha up against any live album you have, anywhere,  anytime.

(08) 1947 Peter Noone is born…Noone – Herman of Herman’s Hermits to you – is still going strong. Touring the world sounding like a man half his age, he continues playing that string of classic 60s pop singles to audiences of all ages. Someone sign him and get him some Mike Viola songs to sing!

(09) 1955 Doc Brown invents time travel…oh hell, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Whatever he’s got to tell you, you’ll find out through the natural course of time…

(10) 1960 Mack Sennett dies…Fifty years ago, the man who gave us the Keystone Kops, Charlie Chaplin, W.C.Fields, Gloria Swanson, Harry Langdon, Ben Turpin and Mabel Normand left this mortal coil. But his work is immortal, and if those names don’t all ring a bell you have some serious homework to do.

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New Album! Oranjuly

Oranjuly is the name for the one-man whirlwind named Brian King, whose obvious love of The Beach Boys, Jellyfish and other harmony-intensive pop bands bleeds through his music. Not certain if the choice of name combines his favorite fruit with his favorite month, but the band name isn’t important – the music under the banner is. And that’s what I’m touting tonight.

You want me to drop more names? Various songs recall Todd Rundgren, Badfinger, Weezer, Van Duren, Big Star and fill-in-your-pop-hero here. And of course, those Beach Boys. Listen to the keyboards and bass line of the opening track and tell me you don’t think of both “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, even though his track “Her Camera” sounds like neither. And when those a capella harmony vocals come in on the bridge? Holy crap.

My two favorite songs are the delicate “At Any Time” (think Bleu or Mike Viola) and the bouncy “I Could Break Your Heart” – especially that irresistable chorus couplet. But it’s deeper than earworm hooks; even with the pop-single lengths of three minutes plus, King flashes some instrumental chops, too. “Mrs. G” wraps up the coda with rollicking piano and tasty guitar leads, but even a stripped down song like “South Carolina” floats its hook over acoustic guitar and piano…and bass/drum support right out of the McCartney/Starr playbook.

I remember when a solo album meant just that – a talented performer was playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. King is very impressive here, filling the voids with strings and keyboards and horns and absolutely nailing the vocals. Very, very strong album – I’ll certainly remember this at year-end time. 

Check out the Oranjuly website.

Buy the album from Not Lame.

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New Album! Bleu

(Well, not brand new. But I do hold these back until after the print magazines have hit the racks.)

In 2003, Bleu’s Redhead album blew me away. I was on that one so hard and so fast, Columbia used my pull-quote on the front cover of the album. It came out early in the year and I predicted it would hold off all contenders, and it did – I voted Redhead as the best album of the year.

Fast-forward through the next dog year, and Bleu is recording a few one-offs, working with other artists, joining an ELO-inspired collective and even forming a pop geek supergroup with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle. And now, finally, that carefully Watched Pot.

I think Bleu has a lot in common with Butch Walker – he’s so talented that the tendency is to have him do too many things at once. And if I were that fortunate, to be both talented and in demand, who is to say I wouldn’t say yes more than I should? At least that’s what I surmise is happening, for as good as A Watched Pot is, I feel…well, to follow his metaphor, that it never quite boiled.

So here’s what I wrote for the latest Bucketfull of Brains.

I guess the pun here is that “a watched pot never boils“, and in fact this third album was bottlenecked by label apathy and the artists’ own perfectionist tendencies. Not that Bleu McAuley hadn’t been a busy guy since moving from Boston to the west coast; collaborating with pop savant Mike Viola (and Bleu’s Beantown producer/drummer Ducky Carlisle) in The Major Labels, and releasing a blatantly affectionate ELO nod (L.E.O.’s Alpacas Orgling). But this on-and-off project has taken quite a while to see the light of day. Maybe the formulaic music industry wasn’t cooperating, or maybe (as he sings in the first track) “nobody saved me from myself”. The irony is that while the pot is here, the contents are not exactly boiling.

I don’t think there’s a film using “There’s No Such Thing As Love” as its title theme, nor “Save Me” or “When The Lights Go Out” (the stunning vocal duet with Sandra McCracken). But if I were a screenwriter I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate them; hell, the arrangements are so huge that they would be tempted to write a screenplay around them. On most of the songs Bleu sounds like he’s going for the brass ring, seeking either the big hit single or (via a cover version by a name artist) the big royalty opportunity.

Carlisle and John Fields have helped sculpt a huge aural platform for his songs, both lyrically and musically complex. And Bleu’s wordplay and sense of humor is firmly in place as is his subtle sinister side. Much like the stalker reveal in Redhead’s beautiful “Watching You Sleep”, his “I Won’t Fuck You Over” seems apologetic…until the very last Hitchcock-ian phrase. And  I suspect the clever Bleu used the amusing tale of opposites attract in “Boy Meets Girl” to take a subtle shot at reviewers trying to pigeonhole his music (“it’s like Jesus Jones and The Rolling Stones  in a game of Twister“).

My first impression was a bit of disappointment that Bleu didn’t rock out a little; some of the more engaging songs on Redhead had a little more energy behind them, like “I Won’t Go Hollywood” and “Could Be Worse”. Aside from “Kiss Me” – which crosses 60’s Motown with 70’s Philly Soul – everything on A Watched Pot is pensive and lush. But when I revisited Redhead I realized it had the same ratio of tempos; it was jus that those two songs jumped out more from the pack. 

Those seeking the power in powerpop might be a little put off by the slower, more dramatic pace and struggle to take it in a single gulp. But there is no denying Bleu’s uncanny ability to create majestic pop songs with huge arrangements, and when they are sung by what might be the best pop voice since Robin Zander, that’s a small nit to pick.

Bleu on MySpace

Video for “There’s No Such Thing as Love“. (Damn…I should have been a photographer.)

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Syracuse Summers

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

As a follow-up to yesterday’s reminiscent jourmey, I want to use this week’s TGIF entry to clue you in to just ten of the many great artists and bands that came out of that smowy little hellhole known as Syracuse, NY. This list is by no means complete – none of my TGIF entries are – but this is but my small way to pay respect to The Little Town That Could…and Did.

So keep your eyes and ears open. Like my very good friend Dave always says, sometimes the best music is right in your own backyard.

Not the puffy shirt

The Flashcubes – If they had only been in a bigger market, their records would sit in every collection next to The Romantics and The Ramones and Cheap Trick. They were lightning in a bottle and dominated the pop scene but somehow didn’t make the jump. Ironically, a career resurgence over the past decade finds them more popular than ever, and the albums they should have been able to release then are available now. Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin still play as The Neverly Brothers (and in other configurations), Tommy Allen enjoys a great career as producer and drummer and Paul Armstrong still kicks ass (see below)

Screen TestGary Frenay, Artie Lenin and Tommy Allen mining a more melodic pop sound after the demise of The Flashcubes. Equally laden with hooks (Frenay is a vastly underrated songwriter) they have also seen a career resurgence and an anthology is being released in a few weeks. Like with the ‘Cubes material, I am still gobsmacked that songs like “Nothing Really Matters Whan You’re Young” did not become massive hits. Maybe now?

1.4.5. – When Gary, Artie and Tommy formed Screen Test, Paul Armstrong hooked up with Ducky Carlisle and Dave DeVoe to form this trio and spearhead a Pink Invasion (don’t ask). Both Dave (Rochester NY) and Ducky (Boston) are successful producers; Ducky has been popping up on scads of albums (Bleu, Mike Viola, Mandy Moore, etc.) and Paul still rocks out with his…oh, you know what I mean.

Masters of Reality – Although the original band split in two, with guitar whiz Tim Harrington going on to The Bogeymen (with another great Syracuse musician, George Rossi) and Creepjoint , Chris Goss is still kicking ass both as an artist and a producer. It’s a long way from sitting on the curbs sharing beers and war stories at 4am, Chris.

Hamell On Trial Ed Hamell, like most, started out playing in cover bands until he realized that he’d be playing in local bars forever unless he started writing his own music. The Works were one of the hardest working rock bands trolling the East Coast, but it wasn’t until Greg Spencer and Blue Wave Records allowed him to record his solo vision that things really clicked. Fans around the globe are thankful.

Elf – (OK…technically Cortland, but that’s almost a suburb.) So you want to know what Ronnie James Dio was doing before he became a heavy metal legend in his own time? The rest of the band was the embryo of Blackmore’s Rainbow (no one played piano like Mickey Lee Soule) and you might also want to check guitarist Dave Feinstein’s other band, The Rods.

The Kingsnakes – From the ashes of The Sandy Bigtree Band (a Firebarn mainstay) came one of the great blues and boogie bands that featured great musicians over the years like axeman Terry Mulhauser and Pete McMahon (later of Savoy Brown) on vocals and harp. Another Blue Wave artist.

The Penetrators – Self-proclaimed Kings of Basement Rock, they took a lot of shit for being sloppy, loud and abrasive, traits that played well for straight punk bands…so since when do garage bands sound perfect in their embryonic years? I am one of those who didn’t get it at first listen but have come to appreciate some of the great nuggets over time.

Joe Whiting – Still one of the greatest vocalists the Salt City has ever produced. Jukin’ Bone, his first band with Mark Doyle, got to release albums on Epic and the Doyle-Whiting Band shows are legend. Joe can sing anything with soul, fire and passion.

Mark Doyle – If it looks like a rock star and plays like a rock star, it is a rock star. Doyle is one of the most in-demand guitarists around and – like Jeff Beck – looks remarkably the same today as he did in his youth. Carrot juice or a deal with Satan? I’m not telling.

Oh, for a video of The Machine and Hummerwho had the man/beatbox thing down cold a decade before anyone scratched a turntable – or a CD release from The Ohms (“Teenage Alcoholic” remains my favorite single from that era). And the list of great bands who burned brightly but too early for an Internet footnote – Dress Code, Steve Neat and The Chances, Midnight Oil, Boss Tweed, The Natives… – could go on for days. Ditto volumes about those who were just as important off the stage (Dave Frisina, Mike Greenstein, Chuck Chao and Dave Rezak, just to name a few) in making this scene work. More tales for another day.

I guess you had to be there. Glad I was.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Music Flicks

After writing about The Boat That Rocked the other day, I thought about other music-related movies that I really enjoyed and found that I had several favorites that I could watch over and over again and enjoy almost as much as the first time. These aren’t concert films – those are obvious repeat performers – but movies about pop music. I’m also focusing on the more modern era (forgive me, Sal Mineo). Plus the movie has to be good (sorry, Tommy) . A few are obvious commercial favorites (is there anyone who doesn’t quote Spinal Tap?) but a couple of these must be off the path; I find most people have never heard of them, let alone seen them.

But hey, that’s a large part of why I do this, to share information about what knocks me out and hopefully expose people to a great band, film or book they might have missed. I highly recommend every single one of these, and hopefully there’s at least one you haven’t seen that you will take a chance on. Enjoy some great movies with great music, whether it’s a library rental, a used copy on Amazon or circling the listing in TV Guide when you see it. Without further ado (you’ve had just the right amount of ado so far, right?) and with apologies to The Committments and The Rutles, here they are in alphabetical order…

Almost Famous : Cameron Crowe drew upon his own story to craft this brilliant peek behind rock’s curtain, from the groupies (sorry…Band-Aids) to the roadies and the madness that is rock’n’roll. Great music and wonderful performances from the leads and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s great turn as Lester Bangs.

A Hard Day’s Night : The Beatles. Need I say more? “I’m a Mocker”

Hedwig and the Angry Inch : Absolutely the best rock opera ever. John Cameron Mitchell’s brilliant performance and Stephen Trask’s music are a perfect match, and both the musical and the movie soundtracks could stand on their own as great music. But the film is phenomenal.

The Idolmaker : Ray Sharkey should have won the Academy Award for his performance as a teen idol Svengali. Great performances from Paul Land, Joe Pantoliano and Peter Gallagher.

A Mighty Wind : The Spinal Tap of folk music and another perfect movie from Christopher Guest. Tremendous performances from everyone, but Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as “Mitch and Mickey” were brilliant. How did this song not win the Academy Award?

Rock and Roll High School : The Ramones. Need I say more? “Things sure have changed since I got kicked out of high school”.

Spinal Tap : Absolutely hilarious, with pitch perfect performances from the three leads and an amazing array of bit parts and cameo roles, like Paul Shaffer as Artie Fufkin and Bruno Kirby as the Sinatra-loving limo driver (the extended deleted scenes are priceless). Here’s a song so good I like it even though it’s parody.

Still Crazy : I think the common thread in all these movies is perfect casting. Bill Nighy is wonderful as the fragile lead singer and you can’t go wrong with comic geniuses Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall. But the story is as heartwarming as it is funny and the music is phenomenal.

That Thing You Do : Tom Hanks nailed the screenplay about a one-hit-wonder band and even wrote many of the songs that the other acts in the “galaxy of stars” performed. The main songs benefitted from pop wizards like Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne) and Mike Viola, but the perfect casting was only exceeded by the movie’s heart. One of my favorite films of all time in any genre.

Velvet Goldmine : Glam fans will lap this up – an Eddie and The Cruisers type plot in the world of glitter and decadence, with Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as thinly disguised Iggy Pop and David Bowie plus great performances from Christian Bale and Eddie Izzard.

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