Check out our other sites!
Concertjunkies
We are ConcertJunkies.

Sly & The Family Stone - Life
Record Label: Epic / CBS
Release Date: September 1968

The third album for a band can either make, break, or halt a band’s career; in the case of California funk, soul, R&B, and rock group Sly & The Family Stone, third record 1968’s Life, was a rather interesting album. It’s mainly due to the fact that the group didn’t get their breakthrough until 1969’s Stand. The group had a bit of a hit with sophomore LP Dance to the Music, specifically the title track (you may remember it from the a karaoke sequence in the first Shrek film that has many different songs in it, and this song is one of them), but with Life, they faded a bit into obscurity again for a year or so. On debut, A Whole New Thing, it was just that. It was a fiery blend of soul, funk, and psychedelic rock. It was a very odd mix and people didn’t react well to it, but Clive Davis, their label executive, wanted the band to go into a more commercial direction, so that’s where Dance to the Music came in. Afterwards, the group released Life later on in the same year, 1968. This time around, the album was a rather nice mix of what A Whole New Thing and Dance to the Music were going for; the album hit a middle ground between these two sounds. On one hand, Life had a lot of hooks and very memorable parts, but also was still very unique. Granted, Dance to the Music was still very unique as well, but the catchier side of the band and more hooks and memorable moments really came out with that album. With Life, though, they hit that mix of the two records and it comes together perfectly. This album is not considered one of their most popular, but one of their best, nonetheless. It’s a perfect example of a record that has a band moving forward and in the best way.

As always, Sly Stone (real name Sylvester Stewart) is the frontman of the group, and is the lead vocalist, along with performing many other instruments, but there are a few other vocalists, which guitarist and brother Freddie Stone, sister and keyboardist/pianist Rose Stone, and bassist Larry Graham. The vocals, like on each records, are absolutely fantastic. The fact that this group has four vocalists is part of what makes them so great, because they have tons of character and charisma. Every vocalist really hits their mark and then some. Every vocalist is great, and there are no complaints with the vocals whatsoever.

The same can be said for the lyrics as well; they’re wonderful. They don’t really deal with anything truly deep or introspective, that happens on Stand and other releases thereafter, but before that, their lyrics mainly dealt with topics that were important in that time period, and if anything, during their heyday, Sly & The Family Stone was mainly a “hippy” band, talking about, love (“Love City”), peace, and unity (“Life” and “Harmony”), at least on this record they do. They do somewhat on A Whole New Thing and Dance to the Music, but A Whole New Thing was mainly more about relationships and things of that nature, while Dance to the Music was more about music and dancing. Life is at a middle ground again, talking about love, peace, unity, but also having songs about relationships and the dating scene, like “M’Lady,” “Dynamite,” and “Chicken.” And there are a couple songs just about enjoying yourself and having fun, including the track “Fun.” A pair of tracks that really stick out to me are “Plastic Jim” and closing track, “Jane Is a Groupee.” The former track deals with “fake people,” and even pays homage to The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” which appears on Revolver. The latter track, on the other hand, deals with, well, groupies. The track doesn’t make the woman in question, named Jane here, seem like a bad person, but just explains she’s more into the band members than the music itself.  The

Lyrically, Life is a very fun time, and really is a product of the times, but it’s not dated or forgettable. The song themes are still relevant today, and some of the tracks about love and peace are really needed. Their naïve sense of optimism can be a bit too much to handle at times, but these are messages that should be heard and spoken about, especially within music. This album is a perfect example of how important music was in the late 60s and early 70s, because this record was released during the start of the Vietnam War and protest songs were everywhere. They were a big staple within our culture and this album doesn’t seem to be necessarily bandwagoning off that idea, but contributing to it. Not necessarily protesting (which is what Stand does, along with 1971’s There’s a Riot Going On), but just expressing some naïve optimism, hoping that things do work out.

It’s in the instrumentation and the overall songwriting itself that shows a nice mix between both A Whole New Thing and Dance to the Music; the former record was rather inaccessible, meaning that it lacked hooks and pop sensibility. The latter record is full of pop sensibility and the entire record is very catchy and memorable. There were some memorable moments on A Whole New Thing, but the record didn’t have any standout tracks or really memorable songs. The whole thing is great, and it’s really grown on me over time, but it’s not the best of the band’s catalogue, either. Life, on the other hand, is considered by some to be the band’s best album, and it shows. Right from the opening track, “Dynamite,” it’s a half hour of nonstop energy. A Whole New Thing was a very energetic album as well, but didn’t quite stick. Life sticks and won’t let go. Songs like “Chicken,” “Into My Own Thing,” “Plastic Jim,” and plenty of others are rather short, but still pack quite a punch and are very memorable. This album doesn’t really feature any slower songs, however; A Whole New Thing featured a few, and Dance to the Music didn’t have any, but there is one song that is a bit slow, and that’s the psychedelic leaning “I’m an Animal.” It’s not a really slow song, but midtempo and rather repetitive with a few slow parts in between. Other than that, though, this record is a very energetic affair, a and clocking in at about half an hour, it’s a lot of fun. There’s also a lot of memorable and interesting guitar riffs in this record as well; this album is a lot more rock oriented than their last two records, and that helps to its advantage.

Life by Sly & The Family Stone is a record that’s worth listening to at least once, especially if you want to hear how funk music started, essentially. This band really helped to pioneer the genre, as well as “psychedelic soul,” which is the combination of psych-rock and soul music. Because this record does have a middle ground between their first and second albums, this won’t be an album for everyone, especially if you aren’t a fan of funk of soul music. But it’s still worth a listen if you want to hear a piece of music history. In fact, that’s how I describe all of their records, but Life is a record that really stands out.

Overall rating: 9.8/10

-Bradley

The Commodores – The Commodores
Record Label: Motown Records
Release Date: March 30 1977 

For quite some time, songs have been used in films, whether they’re “original” songs, like a musical, or songs from other bands and artists to be put into a film, whether it’s a montage, a song that’s referenced or heard by the characters to be used in the plot, or just background music that the characters and whatnot listen to. Sometimes, those choices are really odd, and there’s one case of a song in a film that seemed very out of place. And that song is “Brick House” by The Commodores in the film Muppets In Space. And if you’re familiar with the Muppets, The Commodores, or both, you should realize immediately that these two things do not really go well together. The Muppets are a family friendly group of puppets/marionettes who have a very tongue-in-cheek, meta, and really odd sense of humor but they make people laugh and are really good characters for both children and adults alike, but The Commodores are a funk/soul group that’s been around almost as long as The Muppets, and the song “Brick House” is not an appropriate song, when you look at the lyrics anyway, to put into a Muppets film. The song is only in the beginning montage of the film where the audience is introduced to the characters, but it’s a bit off putting. I saw the film for the first time last year, and just a few weeks ago, I came across a copy of The Commodores album with “Brick House” on it, which is a self-titled record or named Zoom in the UK. I didn’t realize that “Brick House” was that song, let alone even a song that I knew very well, from being in other shows and movies, but nonetheless, I knew who they were and wanted to give the record a listen.

Well, knowing that The Commodores are a funk/soul/R&B group, I already had somewhat of an idea what to expect going into this record, but what I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy it. The Commodores are known for their sound and being one of the top bands/groups within that funk sound. It shows with this record. Like with a lot of albums, however, it’s not perfect and it has its problems, but they’re easily overlooked, because as a whole, this album is a lot of fun. And that’s really the point of it. The problems it does have are very forgivable, because the record is meant to be fun and laidback.

The lead vocalist of the band at the time was Lionel Richie, whom most people may know as either a solo artist or just the dad of Nicole Richie, who’s been famous for basically just being famous, but Richie got his start with The Commodores, and one of his most well known songs is on this LP, which is closing track “Easy.” Richie isn’t the only vocalist on the record, with various other members singing and whatnot, but Richie is the primary vocalist, and to be honest, he does a great job. Lionel Richie’s solo career boomed about five years later after this record was released, and this was the album that made him (along with the group in general) more popular in the public eye. The thing is, though, Richie’s vocals aren’t anything mindblowing or truly revolutionary, like Michael Jackson or Marvin Gaye, but he does try. In fact, songs like “Easy,” “Zoom,” and other tracks do show off his voice. He does a great job with the ballads, and even on tracks like “Won’t You Come Dance With Me,” his voice fits very well with the music.

The same can sort of be said for the lyrics; if you go into this record expecting something that will change the way you think about music, you’ll be disappointed. Lyrically, The Commodores self-titled album is a very straightforward 1970s funk affair, mainly talking about love, dancing, and sex. That’s basically it. Opening track “Squeeze the Fruit” definitely sounds like a sexual innuendo, and the song “Brick House” is another sexually charged track, but the thing is, these songs aren’t obnoxious or in your face about their sexual lyrics. They’re fun, groovy, and funky tunes that you can merely dance to, if you want to block out the lyrical content. But there are songs about love and relationships, too, including “Heaven Knows,” “Funny Feelings,” and “Won’t You Come Dance With Me,” which are all simple love songs that are genuinely sweet, but don’t quite add anything to the record, either. My favorite track, at least, lyrically, is definitely “Easy.” The song is a breakup song, but it’s not your average breakup track, though. The song doesn’t paint either Richie (who sings lead on the track) or the girl he’s talking about as terrible people. Richie paints a picture of a relationship gone sour and he needs to walk away. That’s what the song is about, and when he walks away, he “feels easy like Sunday morning.”

Remember what I said about this album being primarily fun and upbeat? Well, that’s mainly because of the instrumentation. It’s very upbeat, funky, fun, and just laidback. But the thing is, the instrumentation is easily the weakest part of the LP. A lot of the songs are catchy, and they’re a bunch of fun, but it’s pretty standard funk/R&B. There’s not too much that one can take from this record, but the fact that it is a ton of fun and the band don’t really lay on the ballads too thick (there are a few, but the upbeat funk jams are what this record is mainly composed of) makes it forgivable. It’s ultimately become one of my favorite records, and for good reason. It’s one of those records that is meant to just make you dance and have fun. The public surely took notice of that.

Really, the only problems with this album are simple: the lyrics aren’t anything to write home about, and the instrumentation can become rather boring if you’re not a fan of funk/soul/R&B music. I can’t lie and say I don’t see that, but even then, what keeps this record afloat for me is, well, how fun it is. And if you are looking for a fun 70s funk record, you can’t go wrong with The Commodores. “Brick House” is one of the best songs ever written, but on the opposite side, so is “Easy.” The way they are able to seamlessly have two different songs on the record is really interesting, and if you are curious to listen to this band, this is a good record to start off with, because two of their biggest hits are here.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

-Bradley

Neck Deep @ BackBooth in Orlando, FL

March 20, 2014

00:00 | A Part Of Me

01:57 | All Hype, No Heart

03:40 | Over And Over

http://www.neckdeepuk.com/

https://www.facebook.com/neckdeepuk

https://twitter.com/NeckDeepUK

Filmed and Edited by: Kayla Surico

https://www.facebook.com/KaylaSuricoPhotography

Aprilemade – Bright EP
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: September 18 2012

Having musicians as friends is a very cool thing, but it can become rather awkward, depending on whether or not you like their work. I mean, what happens when they ask you to review their work? Well, the best thing would be to simply be honest and explain that if you don’t like the record or EP, talk about why, or you could take the easy route and just gush over the record, even if you don’t necessarily love it. Thankfully, in the case of my friend Michael, and one of his bands, Aprilemade (composed of himself, Michael Kanne and vocalist Annalise Bush), I really do enjoy them and their debut EP, Bright. Simply put, the EP is a pop-rock/indie-pop affair that doesn’t necessarily do anything mind-blowing or revolutionary, but I’ve said before in other reviews, that’s not a bad thing. While Bright is an EP that doesn’t bring anything necessarily new to the world of music, it’s still good and worth listening to. What it does, it does well, essentially.

This reviewer isn’t too fond of female vocals most of the time, with few exceptions, including Hayley Williams (of Paramore), and Stevie Nicks (of Fleetwood Mac). Lately, I’ve been listening to some records by female artists, including Sara Evans, Shakira, St. Vincent, and Stevie Nicks (all artists whose names begin with S). But a while back, I did give Aprilemade’s Bright a few listens and I really enjoyed it. Bush’s vocals aren’t particularly great, but the girl can sing. She has enough personality to keep the songs afloat and the lush instrumentation really complements her voice. And her lyrics are just like her vocals – not bad, and very enjoyable, but nothing spectacular, either. Most of the songs deal with love and the many things that come with it (as many albums do), but they’re still done well here. The songs aren’t cheesy or forced, but they do sound genuine and sincere. A song like “Johnny” is all about how, well, a guy named Johnny that Bush is singing about and just how much she adores him and how she feels like he will be happy with her. It’s a nice track and doesn’t come off creepy or strange, as most songs like that usually do (I’m looking at you, Taylor Swift). Another song, “Running In Deep In Love,” is easily the best song on the EP, in terms of vocals, lyrics, and just the overall sound. This is a song about two people in love and, well, it’s great. Honestly, it’s a really nice love song and could even make for a good wedding song. It also features singer songwriter Tim Halperin, and his vocals really complement Bush’s.

The problems with this EP are minimal; for being a cheerful indie-pop EP, it works nicely. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll be in for a treat, but if your tolerance for “generic” music is low, you might not find much to take from it. Granted, while Bright isn’t necessarily a unique piece of work, it’s still good on its own. Again, for what it is, it’s really enjoyable. The only problems it really has is that the instrumentation can be rather lackluster at times, not doing anything I haven’t heard before, even though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can just become a bit drab, considering there are many other albums and EPs in the genre to listen to, and Bright is an EP that doesn’t necessarily differentiate itself from many others. But it doesn’t have to. It’s a good EP on its own, and I don’t think that Kanne and Bush are trying to blow peoples’ minds, but play music they really enjoy and they think others will enjoy. They do have a very accessible sound that many people can enjoy, and this EP is proof of that. If you do want some straightforward indie-pop, give Bright a listen. It just may brighten your day.

Overall rating: 8/10

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold as Love
Record Label: Track / Barclay / Polydor / Reprise / MCA
Release Date: December 1 1967

If there’s one thing I hate about collecting music, it’s that sometimes I’ll buy an EP or album, and it’ll metaphorically gather dust in my iTunes or literally gather dust within the realms of my CD collection. Sometimes it’s because the record is forgettable, but most of the time, it’s really because I get too much at once, and I get overwhelmed with the amount of things I get that some things just fall to the wayside. That’s where sophomore LP Axis: Bold as Love by power trio The Jimi Hendrix Experience comes in. Yeah, Jimi Hendrix wasn’t a solo artist, but most people think he was. I always did for a long time, too, so I can’t really blame anyone for thinking that. Regardless, he was in a band with two other members called The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Aside from how cool that name is, they were a detrimental force in psychedelic and rock music at the time, somewhat sounding like English power trio Cream with their combination of psychedelic, rock, and blues. Coincidentally, guitarists Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton have a blues influence both in their sound and their guitar playing. Hendrix was known for his guitar playing skills, but he also was a great songwriter in general and with his background, he had a lot of influences that one wouldn’t find in psychedelic music, including blues, and R&B. Sadly, Hendrix lost his life at a very young, but has become regarded as one of the most of influential musicians of all time.

Last year, I picked up a copy of sophomore LP Axis: Bold as Love from a local store, not really knowing too much about his music, even though I did know he was a great guitar playing. I picked that record, frankly because the album art looked really cool. It has Hendrix and his band mates as gods in the Hindu faith and it looks like something that one would find in the 1960s. The artwork was interesting enough, and I decided to take a listen. To my surprise, the LP is great. Everything about this album is fantastic, whether it’s Hendrix’s guitar playing, his vocals, and the other members, composed of drummer Mitch Mitchell, and bassist Noel Redding. The three of them made a power trio, which means that more emphasis is made on instrumentation and overall impact than vocals or lyrics, and like the last record by a power trio I reviewed (Cream’s sophomore LP, coincidentally, Disraeli Gears), it’s evident, but everything still works.

Hendrix wasn’t just a guitar player, but also a singer and lyricist as well, and no, he wasn’t the best at either one of those things. There’s a reason he isn’t known as a world class singer or lyricist, but as a guitar player and overall songwriter, he’s great. His vocals are a bit subdued on this LP, but he’s still not bad. He’s not known for being a terrible vocalist or anything close to that, but he’s also not known for being anything brilliant, either. And his vocals and lyrics I have the same feelings about – they’re okay. They’re not perfect, but they’re still really good. Songs like “Spanish Castle Magic,” “If 6 Was 9,” and “Castles Made of Sand” bring out both of the best things in Hendrix’s voice and lyrics. The last two songs specifically are great; the former is a psychedelic trip about how if things were not what they were perceived to be (as in, if the number six was really nine), Hendrix wouldn’t care, and the latter is about how, well, all good things come to end, with the chorus repeating, “castles made of sand fall into the sea eventually.” And it’s a really sad mentality, but it’s a reality as well. It’s something pretty heavy to talk about, but Hendrix does so with tact and dignity. Bassist Noel Redding also sings on a song entitled “She’s So Fine,” which is one of the weaker tracks, both lyrically and instrumentally. He’s not a bad singer, but his song sort of throws off the vibe of the record that Hendrix was taking it, even though there’s a couple of songs after, but it’s easily the weakest song.

The instrumentation, however, is where the record shines, and what else can I say about Hendrix that no one else already said? He was a very talented man, plain and simple. His ability to play was amazing, and his ability to also combine different styles of music was really interesting. He does it a lot on this LP, combining blues, psychedelic, and even R&B in some tracks, like “Little Wing,” for instance, which is a ballad, and it’s odd to hear Hendrix sing ballads, but he does it very well. His guitar work still suits the track, and one thing I really admire about this record and Hendrix himself is that his music is different and experimental to some degree, but it’s not too weird, either. In the same year, the New York psychedelic/art-rock band The Velvet Underground released their debut LP, The Velvet Underground and Nico, and I couldn’t get into that album because it was a little too strange and jarring for myself. This album has just enough experimentation but just enough accessibility to really enjoy it as well, and that its biggest trait, and that’s the best part about it. There’s enough to enjoy if you’re into psychedelic-rock, but it’s also worth taking a look at if you’re into blues, or hard-rock, because the guitar tones are definitely not your jangly Beatles-esque. This record doesn’t quite push the envelope like the Beatles ever did, but it certainly does do some interesting things. The first track, “EXP,” is an odd little intro that’s spoken by both Hendrix and Mitchell, and it sets the odd tone for the record itself. All in all, though, Axis: Bold as Love isn’t a record that’ well known by Hendrix, and in fact, it’s considered to be his most subtle album, but it’s an album I wish I listened to a lot more much sooner.

Overall rating: 9.3/10

-Bradley

Eric Paslay – Self-titled
Record Label: EMI Nashville
Release Date: February 4 2014

A few months ago, the 2014 Grammy’s were on, and up and coming artist Kacey Musgraves won the award for Country Album of the Year and Country Song of the Year, with her new record Same Trailer, Different Park. Because of that, I decided to look into the record, and I really enjoyed it. For being the first country music album I really dove into, it was a new experience. Fast forward a few months later, another country artist has caught my ear, Eric Paslay. He’s not a household name, nor is Musgraves, but they do have two things in common. The first thing is that, well, they’re both rather “new” artists in the country music scene, and they’re just starting to get noticed. The second is, however, they aren’t new to country music as a whole. Both artists have been writing songs for other artists and bands for a long time. In fact, on Eric Paslay’s debut self-titled album, the lead single “Friday Night” he wrote for Lady Antebellum and that song was from a few years ago. Not to mention, it was number one on the country charts, along with many other songs he’s written for artists. The two aren’t strangers to country music, but are finally getting recognition as artists themselves. I heard a lot of good things about Paslay’s debut album, so I decided to take a look at it myself, especially after hearing the two lead singles from the record, “Friday Night” and “About a Girl.” The songs intrigued me enough to listen to the whole thing, so what did I think about it?

Well, let me preface this review by saying that I have very mixed feelings about country music as a whole. It’s never been something I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed, but I have been a bit curious about it. Sadly, though, any curiosity I have is thwarted by the “bro-country” movement, which refers to songs and artists who basically adhere to certain clichés of the genre, like beer, trucks, girls, moonlight, tight jeans, etc, etc. They basically objectify women and talk about relationships and subjects in that area very lightly and there’s nothing interesting or “good” about it. Very few artists have come up to sort of block this “bro-country” wave, except for Eric Paslay, who isn’t the kind of artist that one would think. At first glance, songs like “Friday Night” and “Song About a Girl” would be your average bro-country anthems, but surprisingly, they’re not. And what I thought about his self-titled debut is simple – it’s great. It’s not a record I would say I love, but it’s one that I really really enjoy. I’ve been playing it constantly over the last weeks, because it’s a record that’s so much fun to listen to, but also is a lot more interesting and engaging than many other country albums and artists out there.

It’s Paslay himself who really is the best part of the LP, not only for writing a lot of the songs himself, but just his vocal delivery and his performance overall. His voice isn’t perfect, but his charisma and charm can make one overlook that. He’s got some talent, and songs like “Deep As It Is Wide,” “Country Side of Heaven,” “She Don’t Love You” show off his voice, but those are the more ballad-type tracks. The more uptempo tracks don’t do as good of a job of showing off his vocals, but they’re good, either way. Songs like “Friday Night,” “Good With Wine,” and “Here Comes Love” are still really catchy and likable songs.

In fact, it’s thanks in part to the lyrics that Paslay comes off as a very likable person. A song like “Friday Night,” as I mentioned, does look like an average bro-country jam, talking about how Paslay wants to take this girl out on Friday night, obviously, but that’s not completely it. He doesn’t want to get her in bed or anything to that effect, but he merely just wants to take a girl out on the town and have fun with her on Friday night. He wants him to be her “Friday night,” meaning that he just wants her to have a good time with him and doesn’t expect anything in return but a good date or company. Then you have a song like “Song About a Girl,” which is a song title can make anyone roll their eyes, but this song is one of my favorites on the LP, because it’s really clever with what it does. The song is basically denouncing and shoving off every single country lyric cliché that one could find within the genre and in the end he says the song is only about a girl and nothing else. Even with those clever bits and those lighthearted tracks, there are some more heavy-hitting tracks, too, such as “Never Really Wanted,” which is a song that is about Paslay having feelings for a girl he never did before, but he notices that she has someone new and that makes him want her more. The song doesn’t paint him as a bad guy or the girl as a bad person for being with someone else. It just acknowledges Paslay’s feelings and how he doesn’t like feeling that way. He doesn’t convince the girl to cheat or leave the guy she’s with or interested in, but he just explains how he feels.

The rest of the lyrics are like this, too; they’re all done very well and don’t paint anyone as being a bad person. There are even a couple of religious songs, “Deep as It Is Wide,” and “Country Side of Heaven,” but these songs aren’t overly preachy or annoying, either. In fact, they’re quite intelligent and handled very well. Two of my favorite tracks lyrically, are “Good With Wine,” and “She Don’t Love You.” The former is where Paslay equates the woman he’s with as going well with wine, and he talks about many other things that are perfect for each other, but the song is really about his maturation upon meeting her and growing up, and the rewards of growing up. The latter track is about how Paslay is warning the listener of a woman who doesn’t love the person she’s with, but merely, she’s just looking for someone to be with because she’s lonely. There is a nice twist in the song, and I won’t ruin it, but it makes the song a lot more sad and written even better than if other artists wrote this song. But there also are a few tracks that don’t have too much to add to the album, specifically, “Here Comes Love” and “Like a Song,” but these are just fun tracks that are really sweet and cute. That’s the point of them, however.

For this reviewer, the biggest “flaw” of this LP is in the instrumentation. While the lyrics are pretty interesting and engaging, Paslay’s voice is engaging, the instrumentation can be rather lackluster sometimes. The instrumentation does complement his vocals most of the time, but on the ballads and the quieter tracks, they feel a bit boring, per se. The songs themselves aren’t awful, but they’re not my favorites. Although, a song like “She Don’t Love You” does its job very well, it’s just the religious songs on the record don’t really do anything for me. They’re handled well, and they aren’t preachy, but instrumentally, they’re boring. On a majority of the songs, though, the instrumentation is pretty good, but it’s nothing that I haven’t heard before necessarily. And that’s okay, because the rest of the record does hold up. Country music is a genre that can get away with instrumentation that doesn’t really do much or go anywhere, mainly because it’s the lyrics and the vocals are the primary focus. And thankfully Paslay is a very likable character, and he writes most of his own material, otherwise the album wouldn’t hold up as much as it does. For being the first country album by a male singer that I’ve listened to, it’s great. Eric Paslay is a wonderful artist and should be a lot more popular than he is, especially in country music. He’s very likable, he writes a lot of his own stuff, and he doesn’t conform to the clichés of the country that make a lot of people really hesitant to listen to it. If you want to listen to country music, but don’t know where to start, give this a record a shot.

Overall rating: 8.5/10

-Bradley

Photo Gallery by Kayla Surico (kayla-surico)

Artist/Band: Bayside

Location: The Beacham - Orlando, FL

Date: March 29, 2014

Photo Gallery by Kayla Surico (kayla-surico)

Artist/Band: Four Year Strong

Location: The Beacham - Orlando, FL

Date: March 29, 2014

Photo Gallery by Kayla Surico (kayla-surico)

Artist/Band: Four Year Strong

Location: The Beacham - Orlando, FL

Date: March 29, 2014

Photo Gallery by Kayla Surico (kayla-surico)

Artist/Band: Daylight

Location: The Beacham - Orlando, FL

Date: March 29, 2014

Photo Gallery by Kayla Surico

Artist/Band: Mixtapes

Location: The Beacham - Orlando, FL

Date: March 29, 2014

The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico
Record Label: Verve
Release Date: March 12 1967

On a recent review for Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, I talk about how just because an album is a “classic,” regardless of genre, it’s not exempt from criticism from others who may just not enjoy it. Going along with that idea, even if a record is a classic, you don’t have to like it, but at least respect an album’s influence, if it had one on music or any genre. If an album influenced other artists or bands, at least respect it because it may have inspired records that you love. But another aspect is when a musician passes away, is it okay to criticize their work, even if you’re not speaking ill of his or her passing? Well, there’s a fine line to tread, but for the most paper, yes, it’s perfectly fine. When Michael Jackson passed away, the world was in tears, at least most of it, because he was the King of Pop, and helped to shape pop music into what it was at the time, and even to what it is today. Artists still take notes from his handbook, but that’s beside the point. There were also plenty of people that didn’t like his music, mainly because they either didn’t like him as a person or because they just didn’t like pop music, and that’s okay. Of course, speaking ill of the dead is a taboo in society, and also is just common courtesy not to, but most people who don’t like his music (or other artists/bands for that matter) do respect their influence.

Another artist who passed quite recently, Lou Reed, is an artist that many people may have differing thoughts on, depending on who you are. If you’re a casual music listener, you may not know who he is, because he was not a very popular or widely known artist, aside from a few songs throughout the years. If you’re a fan of older music, you may know his solo work, or his work the art-rock/psych-rock band The Velvet Underground. But if you’re a “metalhead,” you may know his work with Metallica and their collaboration record, Lulu, which was not only met with a lot of negative feedback from fans and critics, but it was the last record Reed was apart of. I fall into the middle category, but I honestly didn’t know that Reed was in The Velvet Underground until I looked up the band’s debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. With that being said, I was curious to give the record a listen, because I had hardly listened to any of his stuff, so I went into the record with a very open mind and quite excited since the record is one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums. Well, this is where the introduction comes into play, because it pains me to admit that after repeated listens, The Velvet Underground and Nico is a record that I like to some degree, but I can’t really get into it. This is an album I appreciate a lot more than I really like, and there are a few major reasons why I’m not in love with this LP.

The biggest one is for Reed himself. Say what you will about Lulu and his other projects, but this record was my first proper introduction to Reed’s vocals and lyrics. His lyrics are certainly interesting and very well written, but his voice is probably my biggest “problem” with this LP. The only song of his I knew prior to listen to this was the song “Walk On the Wild Side,” which I’ve heard a few times on a classic rock station, but didn’t know that was by him. When I heard that song, I didn’t really enjoy it, because his vocals are really bland and boring. He mainly talk-sings, somewhat like Bob Dylan, but Bob Dylan has a much more tolerable voice, and his voice works pretty with the music itself. Reed’s voice doesn’t work, at least for me, anyway. His voice isn’t god awful, but his delivery is what drives me crazy. He employs that style of singing on almost every song and it makes just about every single really hard to enjoy. They don’t quite ruin the songs, but there’s nothing interesting or memorable to his vocals. He doesn’t need to be the next Marvin Gaye or Michael Jackson, but he doesn’t have much of a range, nor any real emotion in his voice. He may for others, but to this reviewer, his voice falls quite flat and doesn’t have any effect on me whatsoever. The band also collaborated with a vocalist named Nico, who sung on a majority of tracks, thanks to band manager/artist Andy Warhol’s expense, and well, she doesn’t do anything for me, either. Neither vocalist really interests me much or has any gripping features or a voice that really captures me.

The best part of this LP, however, is the lyrics. In 1967, music was beginning to change, but so were lyrics. The Beatles wrote songs about drugs, some of which got banned on BBC Radio, but The Velvet Underground were a bit more brash than that, instead writing songs about heroin use (“Heroin”), obtaining drugs (“Waiting for the Man”), sexual “deviancy” (“Venus In Furs”), and plenty of other taboo subjects for the 1960s. That doesn’t mean the whole record is like that, however, a lot of the tracks are more typical of the era as well, including “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” “There She Goes Again,” “Femme Fatale,” and a few others. The lyrics of this LP are the best part, because of how brash and honest a lot of them are, but they don’t hold a lot of weight when the music itself does nothing for me as well.

While the lyrics are the best part, because they are written so well, the instrumentation of this LP is another one of my least favorite things, including the vocals. But even though I just didn’t care for Reed’s voice, at least the instrumentation is pretty solid throughout the album. It’s just that this record is very experimental, and not the kind of experimental that’s still slightly accessible for others. In the same year, The Beatles, and Sly & The Family Stone both released albums, the former releasing their eighth record Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, while the latter released their debut A Whole New Thing. Both records were also a bit more “experimental” from the norm, but they also had some kind of sensibility, the former having a pop/baroque sensibility, and the latter having a soul/R&B sensibility that they both mixed with something unique. The Velvet Underground has barely any pop sensibility running throughout the LP. Some tracks do, like “There She Goes Again” (which REM covered on their first record and I never knew that was a cover), “I’m Waiting for the Man,” and a couple others, but the 49-minute run time is not worth a few tracks, and ultimately, this record really falls to the wayside for me.

I don’t exactly dislike this LP, but I don’t love it, either. There may be a reason for it, too; I love “experimental” music, but there has to be something that can get me hooked, and something memorable within it. The Velvet Underground and Nico doesn’t have anything memorable or anything to hook me into it. It’s a little too experimental for me, because there are no pop hooks or at least anything to keep me terribly interested in it. This isn’t an album I want to press repeat as soon as I finish it. It’s an album that I appreciate more than I enjoy, even though I do like it just fine, aside from Reed’s vocals. They’re not hard to sit through, just grating after awhile. That’s my biggest problem, even if the instrumentation lacks any real distinction. This is a record that’s just too “out there,” and I know that’s an odd thing to dislike about a record, but most records I enjoy that are really strange or experimental have at least something memorable or interesting to hook me to them. Sgt Pepper is, well, the Beatles, and there’s a lot to admire about it, especially its pop sensibility, and A Whole New Thing was essentially a whole new thing, it laid the groundwork for psychedelic soul and funk in the 1970s. The Velvet Underground have made an impact on psych-rock/art-rock, but it’s an album that this reviewer just can’t get into, but can certainly appreciate its existence and influence. I’m happy I have it in my collection and that I’ve listened to it, but it may not be a record I go back to a lot.

Overall rating: 8/10

-Bradley

Cream – Disraeli Gears
Record Label: Reaction / Atco / Polydor
Release Date: November 10 1967

For as long as I can remember, I’ve gone music shopping every weekend, and run errands with my mom, to get groceries, snacks, or whatever else we need. I’m usually after music as well, and most of the time, my mentality is one of three things: I know exactly what I’m looking for, I have some ideas but nothing is set in stone, or I’m just going to browse around and see what I find. Most of the time, it falls into the first two, but a few weeks ago, the last mentality is one I had for the weekend. There was nothing on my radar, so I went into the weekend blind, not sure what I was going to find. For whatever reason, I’ve been getting into a lot of older music, specifically music from the 60s and 70s, and that’s exactly what I came across at Barnes and Noble. If you have one in your area, and you enjoy “classic” or “older” music, you can find plenty of great CDs for quite cheap. What I found, though, was 1968’s In a Gadda Da Vida by Iron Butterfly, 1967’s A Whole New Thing by Sly & The Family Stone, and finally, 1967’s Disraeli Gears by supergroup Cream. When I looked at the cover of the album, I flipped it over to see the tracklisting, and when I saw “Sunshine of Your Love,” I knew I had to hear the whole album. I knew who Cream were, but didn’t quite know anything about them.

As it turns out, Cream is one of the first “supergroups,” meaning a collection of legendary musicians forming another band. In this case, Cream is the brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds), drummer Ginger Baker, and bassist Jack Bruce, all famous for being in other bands prior to the formation of Cream. They’re not you average supergroup, since all but Clapton aren’t household names that people would know right off the top of their heads, but they’re a supergroup, nevertheless. Another interesting fact is that they’re a “power trio,” which refer to bands who have a guitar, bass, and drums, leaving the rhythm guitar and/or keyboards out. They emphasize instrumentation more so over vocals and lyrics, and that’s easily evident within Disraeli Gears. While Clapton, Baker, and Bruce all have decent voices, it’s Clapton’s who is the “best,” and whenever he sings, he steals the show, but the instrumentation is easily the best part of the LP, and the most “important” aspect as well. But no matter what, Disraeli Gears is a staple in psychedelic-rock, and blues-rock.

One of the most interesting things about this LP is that all three members contribute vocals, and even some harmonies, even though the vocals not the integral part of it. Baker takes lead vocals on the track“Blue Condition,” Clapton takes songs like “Strange Brew,” and the cover of blues song “Outside Woman Blues,” while Bruce takes a majority of lead vocals, on tracks like “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “SWLABR,” and “We’re Going Wrong.” A lot of harmonies also happen as well, like with “Sunshine of Your Love” being taken by Clapton and Bruce, for instance. There isn’t too much to say about the vocals, considering it’s the overall impact of the LP and the instrumentation that’s more important to the band, but all members are enjoyable, nonetheless. Their voices aren’t bad or grating, but Clapton is easily the best vocalist of the three, even though he doesn’t get much time to shine as a vocalist.

The same can be said for the lyrics, too; there’s just not much to say about them, since they aren’t the main focus, but what I can say is that they’re still quite interesting to listen to. The lyrics may not be the main focus, but they’re a lot of fun. Songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “SWLABR,” and “Tales of Brave Ulysses” have really fascinating lyrics that may seem silly at first listen, but when really looked at, they’re quite interesting. The lyrics can appear rather lazy and haphazard at times, but it never gets too blatant or annoying.

Without a doubt, the best part of this LP is in the instrumentation. Aside from being a psych-rock album, and a very important one at that, the record also has roots in blues-rock, and hard-rock. Clapton’s guitar playing walks that thin line between all three genres and on some tracks, like “Sunshine of Your Love,” which features a killer guitar solo, there’s a distinct psychedelic sound, but others have more of a blues sound, including the cover “Outside Woman Blues” (which is one of my favorites off the LP), and “Take It Back.” And clocking in at 33 minutes, the whole album is full of wonderful guitarwork, and the like. There’s a lot to take from this LP, and it’s garnered a lot of listens from me. The name of the record, Disraeli Gears, is a malapropism, which means that someone meant to say something else, but got the word or phrase wrong (oftentimes with hilarious results), due to roadie Mick Turner mentioning to Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker that a racing bike has “them Disraeli Gears,” meaning to say “derailleur gears.” Like the title of the album, I ended up finding a copy of this record somewhat on accident. I didn’t expect it, and it’s ended up becoming one of my favorites.

Overall rating: 9.5/10

-Bradley