Paul McCartney “New”

Rarely do I review such mainstream stuff, but when it comes to Sir Paul I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted to know if he could still pull out some of that old Beatle magic. I wasn’t keen on his standards LP Kisses on the Bottom, so I was expecting something closer to my tastes.

With the stigma of ageism gone from rock n’ roll, the 71 year old Beatle works with four different producers (Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth and Giles Martin) in an effort to sound “new” but still tinted with sweet nostalgia. The title track certainly does this, a sing-along crowd pleaser with a Beach Boys coda. Paul’s melodic gift still holds up with nice bass guitar lines of “Alligator” and “On My Way To Work” which recalls his time with Wings. “Early Days” is a predictable look back and the ballad “Looking At Her” is another signature Macca love song.

One caveat is that his voice is really starting to show its age, like fellow septuagenarian Brian Wilson he needs a little help from his (studio technician) friends.  And for every polished gem like “Queenie Eye,” you get filler like “Appreciate” with its forced hip hop beat or the overly glossy production on “Save Us.” This isn’t going to stop fans from rushing out to grab this, and it’s nice to know that the old dog is trying some new tricks. The good stuff easily outnumbers the lame stuff, and my favorite here “Turned Out,” proves beyond a doubt that Paul is back. So enjoy him while he’s still here making music.

Amazon | Itunes

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More album favorites for 2012

This was an excellent year for melodic rock and indie-alternative pop. I didn’t have time to rank everything, but I did want to make another list for you, these are albums that I’ve enjoyed but I didn’t have time to review. More overlooked gems will be reviewed this week.

  • Amiee Mann – Charmer. She’s been making music since the 80’s, and this LP is full of her articulate pop smarts, with a vocal as sweet as ever.
  • Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. A great melodic indie pop that’s much more upbeat than previous efforts. Takes a few listens, but it sticks with you like those classic REM albums of the 80’s.
  • Field Music – Plumb. The band moves away from any single standouts to a landscape of moods and themes on an artistic level. Andy Partridge fans will understand and enjoy this.
  • Brendan Benson – What Kind Of World.  Benson has slowly been drifting toward the mainstream indie pop world. More roots rock here, and still melodic. A subdued but worthy addition to ipod.
  • Bob Mould – Silver Age.  Too old to rock and roll, too young to die? Nah. Mould returns to his Husker Du and Sugar roots and delivers one of the best hard rock alt. albums of the year.
  • Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t.  One of the best wistful, lovelorn pop albums I’ve heard since Elliot Smith passed on. This is heartbreak that feels honest and cathartic.
  • Allo DarlinEurope.  Reminding me a bit of Tullycraft mixed with Kate Miller-Heidke, this is a great debut and excellent pop in the Belle and Sebastian mode.
  • The School - Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything.  If you liked Allo Darlin, now try to imagine it filtered through Brian Wilson and Brill Building arrangements.

A message from Sunrise Highway musician who says “support indie artists!”

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Candlebox and Lightships

Candlebox “Love Stories & Other Musings”
Candlebox is a perfect example of popular rock band that doesn’t want to be hemmed into a single rock category. With a platinum-selling debut in 1993, they rode the Seattle grunge bandwagon but the wheels fell off in 2000 with numerous personnel changes. They reformed in 2008 and the band now sounds totally ready for a comeback. Opening with “Youth In Revolt” it’s got a loose feel, and like the Foo Fighters, blasts us with guitars and a heavy hook. My favorite here is next, “Sweet Summertime,” its a great power pop track about the difficulty of touring and being away from your family while on the road.

There are many great songs here from the hard melodic “Lifelike Song” to the sweet power ballad “Baby Love.” Lead singer Kevin Martin still has those trademark howls that work best with Peter Klett’s gritty riffs. They are no longer beholden to grunge, although a faithful re-recording of five past hits are included (in case you forgot them). After listening to the entire album those “hits” are the weakest songs here. If we evaluated the new tracks alone it would stand as the best Candlebox album ever. A great re-introduction to a band that plays genuine melodic rock n’ roll.

Lightships “Electric Cables”
Gerard Love’s (Teenage Fanclub) new solo outing is a shimmering poppy confection, opening with the lighter-than-air  “Two Lines” and the summery warmth of “Muddy Rivers,” it has more in common with Belle & Sebastian than his former band. Backed by Bob Kildea from Belle & Sebastian (surprise!), Tom Crossley from The Pastels, Dave McGowan and Brendan O’Hare from Teenage Fanclub, Love gets to indulge in sweet melodies and lush arrangements that echo and envelope the listener. There is no better example than “Sweetness In Her Spark” with its quivering rhythms and ethereal vocal. The precious centerpiece is “Silver And Gold” – and it’s got some groovy guitar fuzz to go with harmonies worthy of The Association.

While lovely, the thick atmosphere and flute of “The Warmth of The Sun” could also put you to sleep. But there are enough wonderful harmonies like on “Stretching Out” that prevent things from being a total snoozefest and fans of  gentle chamber pop and psychedelic daydreaming will find this a perfect album. Others may consider it the musical equivalent of Prozac.

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The Beach Boys Reunion

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The Beach Boys, together with estranged sonic genius Brian Wilson for the first time in decades, have the brand-new reunion single “That’s Why God Made The Radio.” You can close your eyes and go back in time… “Tuning in the latest star/From the dashboard of my car/Cruising at seven/Push-button heaven” The song proves without a doubt proof that nobody can replicate their harmonies, even though thousands of bands have tried. This is vintage Beach Boys and with both Brian and Mike Love passing 70 years old, they figured it was now or never.

Listen to the song here with lyrics.

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Major label reviews: PushPlay and Mayday Parade

PushPlay “Found”
Time to see what talent the major labels are pushing through. Produced by Matt Squire (Panic at the Disco) Long Island natives Push Play would like you to toss your Jonas Brothers CDs in the trash and “Watch it Burn.” While the opening track is a nice buzz guitar pop song, it enters boy-band faux-soul with “Midnight Romeo.” Lead singer CJ Baran has a good lead vocal and the band plays well together as tight quartet. There is a bit of good pop funk here in “Taking It Back” and the mature lyric on “My Everything” takes the band out of the cliche department. In addition, “See My Soul” is a song that stands as an excellent example of a modern up tempo pop, and “Start Again” is a nice arena styled crowd pleaser to end off the album. Unfortunately too many songs here sound like cookie cutter pop fluff (“Covergirl” and “Barely Legal”) and the band needs a few more hooks in the material to make it memorable. On the other hand, if you’re an typical teen you’re welcome to ignore this review.

Mayday Parade “Anywhere But Here”
It’s good to see the major labels cultivate talent, and this band has made steady progress from a rough punk pop outfit to a polished pop powerhouse along the lines of Green Day or Bowling for Soup. Fans of the older Mayday Parade may miss the dual vocal leads of the past, but this is the major leagues, kids. The band has matured with a nearly non-stop tour schedule, including co-headlining the Alternative Press’ tour “The Fall Ball ’09″. This is modern alternative pop with an accent on Derek Sanders powerful vocals and it’s chock full of solid melodies. The Tallahassee-based band stands out right away with a big hook in the chorus of “Kids In Love.” It follows with the earnest guitar lead “Bruised and Scarred” and most of the other tracks here have a solid song structures and excellent musicianship. The album suffers a little from a few middle of the road power ballads that don’t stick in your head too long. However, when these guys it crank up, like on “Center of Attention” and “The End” you will be glad to add this to your ipod playlist.

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