Friday, December 29, 2006

AM – Troubled Times

AM – Troubled Times

So I was on my way into work, or what passes for it these days, and I was listening to XM 75, which happens to be HEAR Music: The Sounds of Starbucks. Say what you may about their painfully overpriced and pretentiously named coffee, but they do occasionally have good taste in music…and a nice Green Tea Latte. Anyway, the point of all this is that I heard a song I hadn’t heard before, which for me really isn’t a surprise as my musical radio time rivals that of my exercise schedule. The song was City Syndrome and the artist was AM. I liked it so much that I called my voicemail and left myself a message to look it up. I did…and here’s what I found.

AM, the guy, is from Oklahoma. He spent his teens in Louisiana, played guitar, went to Loyola and started writing songs in college. He won best Singer / Songwriter in 2005 from the Los Angeles Weekly Music Awards and has had his music placed in quite a few television shows and films. AM, the guy and his band, are now from Los Angeles and feature AM on vocals and acoustic guitar, Mark Getten on the bass, Geoff Pearlman on electric guitar and background vocals, Mike Mangan on keyboards, Bryan Head on the drums and Chris Lovejoy rounding things out on percussion. In 2005, AM released an EP of remixes of their song Mainstay and 2006 saw the release of their full length album, Troubled Times.

As it turns out, Troubled Times, the album containing my morning drive time epiphany, is a really good disc. It’s got a smooth vibe and is full of melody, with catchy hooks and unpretentious lyrics. My overall impression of the album is very clean and very cool. Full of acoustic and clean sounding electric guitars, Troubled Times showcases AM’s vocals in a band setting with dirty electric guitars and keyboards reinforcing the rhythm section, but never overpowering it.

Some of the most interesting things for me about Troubled Times were the recorded tracks themselves. I found little parts of the instrumental tracks to be like aural “Easter Eggs” similar to the hidden features you would find on a DVD. Let me give you a couple of examples. On the album’s opening track, Gone Away, there’s a tambourine doused with echo and buried in the mix that just makes me think of a sixties kind of sound. Another happens on the track So Lonely. One of the guitars plays a quick up-pick that sends me back to pop music in the 80’s. There are more “hidden” parts on the album too, but for me those little things help take good tracks and just give them that much more of a push towards being something remarkable.

As far as Troubled Times is concerned, what you’re left with at the end of the day is a ten song album full of solid songs, solid writing and a name we’ll hopefully be hearing more from in the future.

(By the way, if your searching iTunes for AM, try searching for Troubled Times, it's easier to find.)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays everyone!!!

Seasons Greetings from all of us here at On the

Elizabethtown – Score by Nancy Wilson

Elizabethtown – Score by Nancy Wilson

The Elizabethtown Score is like a sketchbook into Nancy Wilson’s mind. Some of the sketches are rough and unfinished, some are full of colors, but all of them are full of ideas and the Elizabethtown Score allows the listener to actually hear a musical idea better than anything else I’ve listened to lately. Each composition contained on this album seems to be a small, delicate thing showcasing little vignettes from a life; in this case the life is that of Drew Baylor and comes to us thanks to Cameron Crowe and his film Elizabethtown.

The album itself is primarily an acoustic one, with the occasional electric guitar thrown in for color. The tone of the album is wistful and introspective. A few of the tracks, like Dirty Shirt, are fully involved band pieces; however the majority simply feature acoustic guitar and/or piano with the occasional accompanying instrument.

The music chosen for the disc is really the emotional underpinnings of the film, showcasing the music used to help convey plot and develop emotional resonance. While it may not play like a traditional album, the score delivers outstanding pieces of music that are full of melody and the space they need to bloom into outstanding individual pieces.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winger - IV

Winger - IV

When I was in High School, I loved Hairbands…I mean, come on, it was the 80’s after all. One of the bands I would, on occasion, listen to was Winger. They caught a lot of flack for any number of reasons, real or imagined, but guitarist Reb Beach and drummer Rod Morgenstein could both play and Kip Winger was…well, Kip Winger. As the band’s songwriter, bassist, vocalist and namesake, he was a great frontman; unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, he also didn’t look like he had just been hit by a truck…so there was way too much attention paid to the way he and the band looked and not to their musical abilities.

Anyway, after two albums full of hit singles, guitarist and keyboardist Paul Taylor left the band…to end up working on Steve Perry’s comeback album of all things, and Winger released Pull, which went right over my head. After that the band seemed to go away for the most part…that was 1993. In the interim, Kip Winger ended up releasing three solo albums, Reb Beach went on to play with Alice Cooper, replaced George Lynch in Dokken and then filled Steve Vai’s shoes in Whitesnake and Rod Morgenstein went back to playing with the Dixie Dregs and several other side projects.

Now, thirteen years after Pull, Winger, the band, is staging a comeback of sorts with their new album IV. With the addition of John Roth on guitar and Crenk Eroglu on keyboards; Winger, Beach and Morgenstein have released an album stylistically closer to Pull than either of Winger’s first two albums. It’s also a bit more aggressive than the band’s earlier offerings and infinitely more political.

Kip Winger seems to be talking a lot about the ongoing war in Iraq on several of IV’s eleven tracks. The album’s cover illustration even shows a soldier in desert gear encircled by three angels. As opposed to approaching the subject in an outwardly hostile and negative way, the songs on IV tend to come from the point of view of the soldier, not the onlooker or the protester. That’s not to say there aren’t question posed, but they are not quite the incitement of an administration that the songs on say…Neil Young’s Living With War are.

Sonically, IV still has that polished and produced “Winger” sound especially in the vocal department. Basically, it’s good sounds with lots of overdubs. One noticeable addition to IV is the inclusion of acoustic guitar in most of the tracks. That is in no way saying this is an acoustic album. The acoustic exists in addition to all of the electric guitars, they have not been excluded to make room. The acoustic guitar is really there as an addition to IV’s sonic landscape. Speaking of guitars, it was nice to hear Reb Beach again play in the context I was first introduced to him. His leads on IV, while outstanding, seem to better fit into the framework of the songs that hold them as opposed to the spectacle they were on previous Winger tracks.

Overall as an album, IV shows a Winger that’s dialed back from eleven a bit but is, in essence, still the same. There are things on IV that worked better for me than others, but on the whole, it’s an entertaining listen…especially for fans of the decade of big hair.