Sunday, May 30, 2010
Artist: Bryan Adams
Album: MTV Unplugged
Released by Badman in 1997
How do you make cheesy love ballads even cheesier? Just add strings to an all-acoustic set. Cheesy as he is, I do have a soft spot for Mr. Adams. As mentioned a few posts ago, "So Far So Good" was one of the albums I grew up on, so there's always a place for Bryan in my (musical) heart).
This album is pretty much a live greatest hits collection, minus the electric guitars and plus strings and other interesting instruments such as the tin whistle, Irish bagpipes, and the dobro (steel blues guitar). All the tunes are familiar and fun to sing along to. I've found in the past that even people who wouldn't say they are Bryan Adams fans will recognize and sing along to his popular songs. I guess that's the true sign of a well established international artist.
As far as I know, this is the only legitimate recording of "Back to You" that has been released, and that's one of my favourite BA songs. He also does a fun, bluesy rendition of "Let's Make a Night to Remember" and a great bluegrass version of "I Think About You."
I'm not going to say to much more here, because there's a double-disc greatest hits compilation coming up and I will talk a whole lot more about BA when we get there. I like BA, but he's not my favourite to listen, although I always find myself singing and bopping along. Therefore, since this album finds itself on the lower side of good, I will award it a score of:
Join me next time as the experiment continues with another BA installment on Disc #28: Bryan Adams (Room Service).
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Artist: Blue Rodeo
Album: Five Days in July
Released by Blue Rodeo Productions in 1993
This is one of those sleeper albums that I wasn't introduced to until long after it was released. In my defense, I was ten years old when it came out, but I still never really had much interest in Blue Rodeo for about another decade. This was definitely an album that was listened to a lot in the summers picking corn. I owe much of my music listening experience to my buddies from the corn field. Thanks guys. I think it was either Jeff or Dustin who had this one. Perhaps it was both. I remember for sure listening to it in Dustin's old powder blue Pontiac 3000. That was one heck of a corn car. Right up there with the Cutlass Classic (AHEM).
There's something so relaxing about the music on this album. The song writing is great, and the instruments they use compliment the songs so well. I've never been a big country music fan, especially at the time I was introduced to this album, but I love their use of instruments that are typically classified as "country". The pedal steel, when you take it out of its country context, is a gorgeous sounding instrument. This album is the perfect blend of folk, rock, and country. I think that anyone who likes rock, but not country, would still love this music.
I always have a hard time deciding which song is my favourite on this album. I usually flip flop back and forth between "5 Days in May" and "Hasn't Hit Me Yet". That being said, there are so many other tunes that I love on this album, such as "Bad Timing", "English Bay" and "Head Over Heels". I also love the addition of Sarah McLachlan's backing vocals on "What is This Love", "Dark Angel" and "Know Where You Go/ Tell Me Your Dream". She fits in perfectly on this album.
Outside of this album, which unfortunately is the only one that I have from these guys, they have a whole load of hits. I highly recommend checking them out. I have been told by a number of people, and I agree with them, that this disc is a great place to start. As far as I'm concerned, this album is very deserving of a score of:
It's full of great music that inspires me, it brings back lots of memories and is great fun to sing along to, alone or with old friends. I'm offering a free barbecue for the first person who tells me they want to come and hang with me to sing this album together. That's how much I like it. Plus, I love barbecue, so it's really a win-win-win situation for me.
Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #27: Bryan Adams(MTV Unplugged).
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Artist: Bing Crosby
Album: 20th Century Masters: The Best of Bing Crosby - The Christmas Collection
Released by MCA Records in 1999
Before I begin this post, I would like to extend sincerest apologies to my faithful followers. I'm sorry the posts have been a little sparse of late, and hope to get back on pace this week. The half-dozen of you are VERY encouraging. Thank you so much for your support and comments!
So here we are with yet another Christmas album. Only 25 discs in and we hit our third one. It was weird having air-conditioning and Christmas music on at the same time, but they're both so good that I was able to get over it quickly.
Because it is so obviously seasonal, Christmas music has it's limitations. However, can you really go wrong when you get Bing Crosby to sing some of the most memorable and well known songs of the 20th Century? The answer is no. This album is enjoyable any time of the year. Especially in "the most wonderful time of the year".
Of all the classic male vocal performers, Bing is probably my favourite to listen to (followed extremely closely by Frank Sinatra). His tone is so warm that it makes me feel like I'm under an afghan by a warm fireplace in a ski-resort chalet. If that image doesn't make you feel cozy, you need to listen to more Bing.
It's great to hear someone sing a lot of the classics again. I don't need to revisit that atrocious BNL album that I reviewed a little while ago. You can read it yourself if you want to. I'm also still scarred from a whole month of listening to nothing but CHFI's all Christmas music broadcast last season. Only Bing has been able to ease the pain of that memory.
Well, I haven't said much about the music itself, but what is there to say? Love-able music sung by a legendary vocalist; it's always a great listen. All that being said, it does have it's place, and driving down a sunny highway with the windows down is not it. Therefore, I will award The Old Groaner a score of:
Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #26: Blue Rodeo (Five Days in July).
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Artist: Billy Joel
Album: 52nd Street
Released by CBS in 1978
There are certain songs and albums that just bring back a lot of memories. This is one of them. When my parents first split up, my dad had something that I had never seen before, and always looked forward to when we visited him: a CD player. Not everyone in the early 90s had one, so it was somewhat of a novelty. His collection was small at first, but we played those discs over and over on the weekends. Some of the first ones I remember are Rod Stewart's "Downtown Train", Supertramp's "Breakfast in America", Bryan Adams' "So Far So Good", Billy Joel's "Piano Man", and of course, Billy Joel's "52nd Street".
It's hard to tell why I liked this album so much. Why do you still like something that you listened to when you were younger? Do I like it because it's good or because it's familiar? In this case, maybe both.
Before we continue, I must tell of the acquisition of this album into my personal collection. In my fourth year at college, they decided to get rid of the old juke box, and were selling off the CDs. I couldn't help but take a jaunt through the collection, outdated as it was. The discs were selling for one or two dollars each, so when I saw one of my childhood favourites, it was a no-brainer.
Although it is full of late-seventies cheese, this is a well composed album, consisting of many catchy tunes. I played this album a couple times through in the car, and did my best version of karaoke Billy Joel. The weather's getting a little nicer, so I had the windows down. I then found myself turning down the volume as I got to a red light. Sorry Billy, it was just instinct. I didn't mean to do it. It was just an autonomous reaction. Does that mean that deep down I really don't think that it is good music?
For time's sake, let's say that the answer is "no". Everybody loves at least a little bit of Billy Joel. Some memorable tracks that you may know are "Big Shot" and "Honesty". Even my sister-in-law got in the car and said, "Hey, 'My Life!' I love that song!" So do I, Anna, and who doesn't? I just wish the album was longer. It's quite short, and probably only runs at about 45 minutes.
All cheese aside, this is a fun album to listen to. I'm not sure how much you would like it if you didn't grow up with it like I did, because it's pretty dated. Putting all of this into consideration, I think that I will give this one a score of:
I know that I might take some criticism for that score, but go ahead with your own life. Leave me alone.
Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #25: Bing Crosby (20th Century Masters: The Best of Bing Crosby - The Christmas Collection).
Monday, May 17, 2010
Artist: Billie Holiday
Album: Love Songs
Released by Columbia in 1996
I think that for this review it is fitting to start with my summary of the album. Overall, I feel so relaxed when I listen to this disc. On many of her other recordings, Billie Holiday is so profound and can stir many different emotions. Here, however, she just makes me feel at peace.
Her voice is unique, yet soothing. It's not jarring or startling like it has the potential to be. She had quite the talent. This album is packed to the brim with classic jazz standards, including "All of me", "They Can't Take That Away From Me", "Them There Eyes", and "Let's Do It", to name just a few of the sixteen classics on this compilation. In my opinion, you really can't go wrong with Billie. As it says on the back cover, "Lady Day could sing any song."
The other thing I found interesting while listening to this music was the skill of the backing musicians (who include Count Basie and Roy Eldridge). Holiday is obviously showcased on these recordings as she is the lead vocal, but the musicians are so ridiculously talented. You never hear skill like this on the radio today. It's a real shame. Still, these guys take the back seat and let Lady Day do her thing. We need this again. I wish I grew up in that era (either that or the seventies).
This isn't the type of album I would put on while cruising down the highway, but it sure is nice to curl up to on the couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I'm not over the moon about this disc, but I certainly have no complaints. I will award a score of:
Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #24: Billy Joel (52ND Street).
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Artist: Bif aka Bif Naked
Album: I Bificus
Released by Aquarius Records in 1998
Before the comments start flying, it should be made known that I am quite embarrassed that this album is in my collection. I can't even blame it on my wife. I should have tossed it years ago, thus avoiding this situation. However, this is all part of the experiment.
I started listening to it on my way to work this morning. I had just finished listening to "Songs For Silverman" for the second time through, so I threw on the next CD in line, Bif. What a dichotomy. I was so sad. Going from beautiful piano arrangements and compelling lyrics to... something I don't even really know how to describe.
Here's what's been happening to me recently. I listen to great music on the way to work, and then I get to work and listen to crappy music on the radio. Now, some radio stations are good, but not the ones that have been chosen at my work place. So, by the end of the day, I'm really looking forward to getting into my car and listening to some great tunes. Especially lately, since I've had BNL, Beck, and Ben Folds, all in a row. This was not how I felt at the end of the day today. I wanted to stay at work and listen to crappy pop music. Anything would have been better than what was waiting for me in the car.
There are so many things that I could rant about. I think I'll feel better if I just let it all out. First of all, some thing's wrong with the mixing of her voice. There were several times that I could barely hear the vocals over the instruments, and I almost turned it up, but then I remembered that I didn't care. I assume that when you're making an album, you want your fans to hear your voice properly, what do I know about mixing? I do know that even good mixing wouldn't help the over all quality of this recording one iota.
If you've ever heard Bif naked before, you know that her vocal ability is less than savoury. She sounds like an even more strung out version of Alanis Morrisette. I kicked a cat in the barn once and it made a more pleasing sound. Maybe that explains the mixing.
The lyrics, which are totally uninspiring, are a healthy blend of teen angst and potty humour, with a large dollop of immaturity thrown in there for good measure. Adding the lyric "You peed my name in the snow" to a love song, does not enhance the emotional value of the tune. If it was any one else, I would have called this satire, but I'm not giving her that much credit.
In terms of genre within the album, she's all over the map. It goes from punk to alternative to goth to dance, all in just a few tracks. If I wasn't already totally turned off intellectually, I would have been confused.
Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, I got to hear two songs over again in the form of remixes by none other than The Boomtang Boys. Oh Yippee! You may remember the "big" hit, "Spaceman". In the late 90s, just about anyone could produce a hit. The dance version of that song might have been even bigger, at least in dance clubs. Needless to say, it lacked longevity.
If you think I'm being too harsh on poor Bif, let me give you some insight into my thought process. Part way through the album I said to myself, "You're just being biased from the start. You should give her a chance and focus on the music in order to extract the positive points from the songs." That was 100% unsuccessful. I obviously never listened to it after I first bought it because there is nothing good on this album. Once or twice a song would start up and it sounded promising. Ten seconds into it she had already dashed any hope of creating good music.
I was planning to give this album a score of 2, but then my clever wife asked me what in our collection is worse than Bif Naked. I couldn't think of anything, which gives me sound reason to award the lowest score possible on THE MIKE JONES SCALE OF DISC AWESOMENESS:
I will be tossing this disc, or maybe giving it one more shot at Deja Vu Discs before throwing it out. If for some weird reason you want it, let me know quickly. Also be warned that I might never speak to you again.
Please join me next time as the experiment continues and we enjoy some incredible vocal talent with Disc #23: Billie Holiday (Love Songs).
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Artist: Ben Folds
Album: Songs For Silverman
Released by Epic in 2005
I have to be honest with you; when I first got this CD, I didn't love it. It's not that I didn't like the music, because I love pretty much everything that Ben Folds does. It's just that nothing really jumped out at me. So, after a few listens, it pretty much sat on the shelf. Until now...
After giving it another go, I'm starting to hear the things that I missed earlier on. Of all Folds' albums, I think I like the piano playing the most on this one. There are a number of songs where it sounds like he touches every key on the manual. The two songs that illustrate this the most are "You To Thank" and "Trusted". Give it a listen.
Although the songs on this album are growing on me, something seems to be missing here that his other albums have. Perhaps it's his always interesting social commentary. No, that's here too. Well, I'm still not sure exactly what it is, but I like the other albums better.
All that being said, this is still a brilliant album that I highly recommend. Start with the single, "Landed". It might be a familiar place to spawn some interest in the rest of the disc. The video is pretty funny too, but don't let that distract you from the music!
So, it's about time that I break my tradition of handing out "8s" to Mr. Folds. After several minutes of review with my "Idiot's Guide to THE MIKE JONES SCALE OF DISC AWESOMENESS" close at hand, I have decided to give this album a score of:
I know, it's only one less, but it's still some great music, and I just couldn't bring myself to lower it any closer to the dreaded "5" mark.
Join me next time as the experiment continues, we say good-bye to Ben Folds, and say hello to Disc #22: Bif (I Bificus). Yuck.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Artist: Ben Folds
Album: Ben Folds Live
Released by Epic in 2002
This disc marks another first for the experiment: the first live album. This one is unique because it was recorded on Folds' "Ben Folds and a Piano" tour, which was just as it's title describes it. So, he has three albums worth of material with his band, plus another album of solo stuff (on which he played almost all the instruments), and he decides to do a whole tour with just a piano. Brilliant.
Ben Folds fans are the type that know all the words and love to sing along, so this tour was very successful, and has produced an amazing live album. One of my favourite things about his live performances is his tendency to get the audience involved musically. He teaches them some parts to "Not the Same", and it sounds beautiful. I saw him in the spring of 2009 and it was amazing to be a part of that with him and so many other fans.
He also splits the crowd into two groups and gets them to do the sax and trumpet parts on "Army". The track on the album also includes Ben teaching the audience how to do sing the parts, as a trial run before he gets them to do it during his actual performance of the song. Again, loads of fun.
Because I only have one of his three studio albums (and one out-takes album, "Naked Baby Photos") with Ben Folds Five, some of these songs were unfamiliar to me, but I've grown to love them from this live album. However, it's quite amazing how he transforms the band tunes into solo acts. If you had never heard the recordings before, you would have no idea they weren't written for just one piano and a vocal.
One of my favourite songs from "Rockin' the Suburbs", "Fred Jones Part 2", is performed on this album. Not only that, but Ben is joined by the same guy who lent his backing vocals on the studio album version of the track: John McCrae of Cake. He has a warm, yet eerie tone to his voice which I find so fitting for the song, and I'm glad he appears on this live version.
Everything about this album makes it a wonderful sing-along, except for the cursing. Once again, it's my only negative comment. I can get over it, but I would enjoy it just that much more if it was absent. So, as is my tradition, I will award Ben Folds yet another score of:
Join me next time as the experiment continues with another BF album on Disc #21: Ben Folds (Songs for Silverman).
Monday, May 10, 2010
Artist: Ben Folds
Album: Rockin' The Suburbs
Released by Epic in 2001
Even though this debut album is not really a debut album, it`s still an amazing debut album. This was Ben Folds' first album as a solo artist, but he did have the experience of three studio albums with Ben Folds Five under his belt going into it. None-the-less, what a way to break into the music world on your own.
We listened to this album a whole lot in the summer after it was released (and many summers after that). Sometimes albums get really overplayed during corn season. This one might be runner up only to Cake's "Comfort Eagle" (that one is coming up shortly, once we get to the "C" section).
A common trend while singing songs in the corn field is the hand clap. Who doesn't like clapping? Everyone can do it. You don't have to be a good singer, or even have a great sense of rhythm to just clap on the beat. The first track on this album, "Annie Waits", has some great claps at the start. Go and try it for yourself! It's fun, isn't it? It's even more fun in a car full of guys driving around the American country-side. I think about it every time I put the album on. The only times I don't actually clap along to this song are when I'm driving, and even then I try to squeak one or two in there.
I could probably go on for a long time about this album, and comment on every song. It's a great one for sure. I will mention again that I don't care for the cursing, but I just don't sing them when I'm rocking along.
I will comment on one beautiful song. My bride walked down the aisle to "The Luckiest" on our wedding day. I think of her every single time I hear it. If it's on when we're together, we always exchange a glance and a smile. It brings back great memories of that day, and every day after. Thank you, Ben, for the song. More importantly, thank you, Nora, for making everything in my life something worth living for.
If you're not yet convinced that you should have some form of Ben Folds' music in your library, now is the time to go get an album. Start with this one. You won't be disappointed. Once again, I will award Ben Folds a score of:
Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #20: Ben Folds (Ben Folds Live).
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Artist: Ben Folds Five
Album: Whatever and Ever Amen
Released by Sony Music Entertainment in 1997
When I first sat down to type out this particular review, I had total writer's block. I was quite surprised that I had nothing to say about this, one of the gems in my collection. What could explain this lack of inspiration? A day or two later, I realized what had happened.
When listening to this album, it didn't feel like the experiment at all. I've had this one for so long, and it's one that is so familiar to me, that it was not a strain to listen to at all. I loved every song on the album. Sometimes I sung along, and other times it just became the soundtrack to my thoughts. There's not much I don't enjoy about this album, but I can't just leave it at that, can I.
In case you're not familiar with the band, Ben Folds Five is a group that was fronted by pianist Ben Folds. This album is the second of three studio albums the band released. Ben Folds then went on to do a number of solo albums, just as Ben Folds. It seems that some people who are unfamiliar with this history assume it is just one group or person for all his albums. This is most certainly untrue.
Though Folds writes all the songs on this album, and most of them exclusively, the other two members of the band (bassist Darren Jesse and drummer Robert Sledge) lend a major influence to the sound of the trio. Sledge has a unique jazz/rock style of drumming, and Jesse uses a particular "fuzz-tone" on his bass which gives Ben Folds Five one of it's signature sounds.
This album has a wonderful blend of up-beat rocking tunes and mellow, pensive, slow ones. I love the opener, "One Angry Dwarf and 2000 Solemn Faces"; it's a fabulous way to kick off an album. It took me a while to get into them, but the last two tracks, "Missing the War" and "Evaporated", are beautiful ballad-type tunes. Folds really is a wonderful composer.
The big hit from this album, and possibly one of the biggest of his career, is "Brick". This simple but beautiful song is Folds' reflection on his own personal experience of having to abort a child with his girlfriend in high school. Although the plot isn't overly cryptic, the lyrics never explicitly say what it's about. I think this song caught people's attention not only musically but also emotionally.
There's an element of "raw-ness" that I love about this album. It was recorded in Folds' apartment, and he often leaves in little comments from various individuals at the end of a track. My favourite "blooper" is right near the climax at the end of "Steven's Last Night in Town". There's a big crescendo, and then a complete silence before starting up again. If you listen closely, you can hear some one's cell phone go off right in the middle of the break. For whatever reason, they left it in, and it always makes me laugh.
The only thing I really don't care for about this album (and all of Ben's music, for that matter) is his tendency to be a bit of a potty-mouth. It never bothered me when I was younger, but as I've grown up and tried to cut cursing out of my vocabulary almost entirely, especially since having children, I find myself wishing that my favourite artists would cut it out too. Ben likes to throw the "bombs" around quite frivolously at times, and that bugs me. It's something I'm willing to overlook somewhat in this case, because I love the music, but it just means that I won't put it on when the kids are around, which is a shame because I love letting them listen to all types of music.
I have a lot of great memories associated to this album. It's one that most of my peers are familiar with, so it's a great one to put on with old friends. If you've never heard it, I highly recommend you sample it in whatever way you can. It's the type of music that can bring people in from across the barrier of genres. Check out "Kate" if you want another good track to sample.
Well, the moment of truth comes again. This album is truly worthy of a score of:
on THE MIKE JONES SCALE OF DISC AWESOMENESS.
Join me next time as the experiment continues with another one from Mr. Folds in Disc #19: Ben Folds (Rockin' The Suburbs).
Monday, May 3, 2010
Released by Geffen records in 1998
In the late '90s, I didn't quite have the income that I had in the early 2000's picking sweet corn. Therefore, when I bought a CD, it was usually a pretty safe buy. Either I had a lot of singles to go on, or a friend had the album and I knew I would like the majority of the tunes. The former is the reason I bought Beck's "Odelay". "Mutations", on the other hand, only had one single ("Tropicalia") which I liked, but usually wasn't enough to go grab an album. However, I loved "Odelay" a whole bunch, so I went out and got "Mutations" based on its predecessor.
How disappointing. First of all, "Mutations" is nothing like "Odelay". "Tropicalia" is really the only song that resembles "Odelay" in any way. For the most part, the album is super-chill. I don't have a problem with music that is chill, in fact there are times that it's all I want to listen to, but for some reason I just can't get into this album.
In addition to the album feeling kind of sluggish, it doesn't have that same experimental element that I loved on "Odelay". It's still evident, but not to the extent that "Odelay" is.
There's one thing you must remember about Beck: he beats to his own drum. He will record and release the kind of music he wants to, when he wants to. Some rumours I've heard suggest that he released "Odelay" to intentionally have some radio hits, but then did "Mutations" because it was the kind of music he wanted to record, even though he knew it wouldn't have the same commercial success. He then repeated the pattern with "Midnite Vultures", followed by "Sea Change". This behaviour reminds me of Neil Young, which is a huge compliment to you, Mr. Hansen.
I don't need to tell you to get this album. If you're a Beck fan, you've already got it, because most Beck real fans are 100%. If you're not a fan, you wouldn't like it. It's not catchy enough for you. Trust me.
The music is good, and I have great respect for Beck in those regards, but it just doesn't do it for me. Perhaps this is the reason I never bought another Beck album again. Therefore, I shall award "Mutations" by Beck a score of:
Join me next time as the experiment continues with Disc #18: Ben Folds Five (Whatever and Ever Amen).
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Released by Geffen Records in 1996
I don't listen to this album very often, but I throw it in now and then. It seems to me that every time I do, I am surprised that I've forgotten how much I like it! I bought it several months after it had been released, probably after a few singles were already getting overplayed on MuchMusic. I thought that some of the tracks were really weird, but I still loved it and knew every word.
As I've re-listened to it over the years, it's not just the catchy tunes that make me enjoy it so much; it's the weird stuff that really impresses me. Looking back at the music that was being produced at the time, I can clearly see how much of an innovator he was, not to mention a brilliant musician, composer and producer.
It is the innovation itself that is the common thread throughout this album. The tracks are musically diverse, but there's an element of experimentation, creativity, and randomness that is evident in every song. There are some catchy hits that really stand out, such as "Devils Haircut", The New Pollution", and "Novacane". Of course, what child of the '90s could forget the classic hit, "Where it's at"? If I said to you, "I got two turn-tables and a microphone," what would you say back to me? You would say, "Where it's at!" Anyone would.
If you want to sample another really cool track that wasn't a radio single, check out "Hotwax". It's probably my fave on the album (followed closely by "Where It's At"). I want to call it funk, but it's more like he just took the best elements of funk music and then did his own thing to make a really cool song.
I don't usually bring music videos into this but it's a part of the culture and we all watched them growing up, and maybe some of us still do. I just watched the video for "Where It's At" on Youtube because I remembered watching it a lot on TV when the single was popular. I have a question for those of you who still watch TV. Are music videos still this weird? I have no idea what's going on in this video (this was a trend in the '90s if you ever saw a video from that era). I thought it was cool at the time because it was a little out there. Now I just think it's weird. Beck, it works in the music, but not in the video man.
I know I'm trying to curb my score giving, but I love this album so much! I was grooving so hard in the car on the way to work for two days straight. According to THE MIKE JONES SCALE OF DISC AWESOMENESS, that deserves a score of:
Join me next time as we take one more look at Mr. Hansen with Disc #17: Beck (Mutations).