Thursday, September 27, 2007

CD Review: The Cake Sale

Here are a few songs from The Cake Sale:
Last Leaf and
Some Surprise

When you think of a dessert, what comes to mind? Something to satisfy a craving; something that leaves you wanting more of it, even if you’ve already had “enough”; something that tastes best handmade--when it’s been put together with the kind of ingredients that complement each other perfectly. The Cake Sale offers all these attributes in a record. It’s sweetened with just the right amount of emotion, and you better believe it took a lot to make it that way.

You try getting a bunch of Ireland’s notable musicians together so that you can cram all their talent into a little 9 track record without leaving gaps or making a mess. It’s a tough job, and it was successfully accomplished by many, including a few musicians we recognize here in the United States. Take the familiar voice we heard in a few early Damien Rice tracks, Lisa Hannigan… Let’s not forget to mention Gary Lightbody, Snow Patrol’s leading man, along with the well-known voice of a gal we recognize from the Cardigans, Nina Persson. Yep, these artists and a few others are on here, and they’re sounding better than ever.

The Cake Sale’s cover looks delicious, so you’d expect the music on the CD to sound just as tasty. It does. I’d say some of the best tracks on there are “Black Winged Bird,” “Some Surprise,” and “Last Leaf”. All these songs are smooth, sounding natural and earthy—far from heavy, in both the emotional and musical sense. This release can easily be classified as mellow folk, with a few hints of rock thrown in for spice.

As far as the story behind The Cake Sale goes, it’s actually a “charity” album, created with the intention of raising money for a Make Trade Fair Campaign headed by Oxfam Records—The Cake Sale’s record label. Just because the money this CD brings in is going to support a worthy cause, it doesn’t mean the artists are skimping on the music quality they’re offering supporters. In this case, both parties benefit. The Cake Sale will not be a disappointing buy; it has already gone double platinum in Ireland!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Band Review: Rilo Kiley Album Wars!

Wanna hear a few of my favorite Rilo Kiley songs? They're each taken from the albums I mention in this entry:

More Adventurous
Under the Blacklight I have to admit, I was actually introduced to this Rilo Kiley band a few years back. A friend of mine was/is a big fan and it seems I didn't appreciate the group's music much until now. Back then, the few clips I did hear consisted of Jenny Lewis talk-singing in a one-notch-above-whiny voice that didn't appeal to me, but since then, I discovered she also sings! I'm glad I didn't give up on the band altogether. If we, as individuals, change with time, then why wouldn't a group's overall sound also change? There are some bands that I just can't stand, mostly the ones with incoherent, insincere lyrics and beats, but Rilo Kiley wasn't and isn't one of them. I admit, they do have a special place on my playlist now.

So what's this about Rilo Kiley Album wars? You might ask. Well, being that I am an Amazon.comer (I use it to check out the ratings of books/music I want to purchase) I couldn't help but come across Rilo Kiley's latest work, Under the Blacklight. By the time I actually read the reviews, I already had the album--thanks to MySpace (I decided that if I liked the few songs they showcased on their page, it was worth my time to listen to the rest of 'em).

Well, they didn't get the 5 stars, not even 4, sadly. The couple of other albums they released beforehand seemed to make the cut with the amazon.comers, but this one didn't. Some of the reviewers mentioned that this album was to popified, for lack of a better term; it simply was a perfect example of how a good indie band goes bad by selling-out to a more familiar but boring sound. They miss the old Jenny, this one was too modern for them; I have to admit, Under the Black Light's lyrics aren't as fabulous, as some mentioned. I'd even say that at times, they're just a little too lustfully raw in a sort of unclassy, distasteful way.

But, another confession, I love the first couple of tunes. Not-so-great lyrics aside, the first few songs on the album make me wanna do a combination of a skip and a dance; their happy sound is contagious and catchy. But it seems Rilo Kiley ran out of ideas toward the end, where they tried to give a brief nod to the 60s, or maybe of those eras. It's also evident that their general instrumentation and song arrangement styles are a little less country and a tad more rock and roll--another change that might've disturbed some of the long-time fans.

And the conclusion? New-comers to Rilo Kiley might just find their latest music fun, while long-time fans will find it flawed. I'm somewhere in the middle. I appreciate Under the Blacklight, because I can see how Rilo Kiley was trying to go somewhere new with it. Even though they might've gotten a little lost along the way, it's obvious they're still a worthwhile band. More Adventurous, their previous release, does a fine job of capturing the band's song-writing ability and uncanny "skills".

All in all, I think Under the Blacklight deserved 4 stars instead of 3.5. Like I said, those couple of songs were pretty darn mood-boosting, so they should get the spotlight, it's just too bad the other colorless songs seemed to hover under a blacklight.

Friday, September 14, 2007

CD Review: Shivaree

Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs

Ambrosia Parsley, lead singer of Shivaree, still has her peppy but mysterious voice that makes me think of a more refined Betty Boop, but this recent release is a little different from the rest of the band's albums--maybe a bit more elegant while still being comfortable and sincere. Of course, I think Ambrosia's voice is wonderful, and that cartoon reference wasn't an insult at all, it's part of the reason why I find Shivaree's music so appealing. How would I describe their sound? Like a fresh salad served on fine china next to the rotting head of cabbage resting on a paper plate (the cabbage being the not-so-tasty music of so many other girl-led bands).

Shivaree has the ability to take rock, dress it up with just enough fun so that it's not boring, and soften its rough edges so that what results extends beyond any limited musical genre. Tainted Love is easy to listen to, without being easy-listening; it offers the edginess of Shivaree's more alternative side, along with polished, jazzy, and modern rhythms. This combination makes for a perfectly eclectic album that won't have you wanting to skip from one song to another. For instance, "Cold Blooded" is soaked in the happy roughness of a hyped up electric guitar and it's featured right before "Looks That Kill," a mellow but classy tune that brings a 60s mystery movie theme song to mind. I can't forget to mention "Shame On You," which stands out as a fun surprise because of its country-western feel that doesn't conjure up images of a scruffy John Wayne riding on a horse. Shivaree even ventures into the world of R&B, giving a much needed and successful make-over to R. Kelly's original, "Half on a Baby".

I have yet to find a song on this release that disappoints me. Yes, Tainted Love: Mating Calls and Fight Songs gets a star and happy face in my book, which is much better than an A+; it's definitely an album worth checking out and purchasing legally!

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