January, 2001

POP & ROCK REVIEWS 

 

NEIL YOUNG / FRIENDS & RELATIVES
Road Rock Vol. 1
(Reprise)

Thirty years after the success of his album classic After The Goldrush, Neil Young revisits familiar turf to great avail on his new live CD. Thirty two years after he recorded his all time classic "Cowgirl In The Sand", (from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere), Young revives the track as an extended 18 minute jam session. The lead off track on his new album, "Cowgirl" pairs Youngís fiery guitar work with a crack band including Jim Keltner (drums) and Ben Keith (slide and steel guitars). Following his stellar contributions to the CSN&Y Ď99 comeback album and the critical acclaim of the reflective folk/rock flavored Silver & Gold CD, the 8 track, 65 minute Road Rock Vol. 1 shows that Young has lost none of his ability to amaze and overwhelm an audience. Recorded in Denverís Red Rocks theater, Road Rock Vol. 1 is also available available as an expanded twenty track DVD. www.RepriseRec.com 


 
 

DOUG POWELL
More
(Not Lame)

Itís been several years since Doug Powell released his power pop masterpiece Ballad Of A Tin Man on Mercury Records. As pop fans know major label success is hard to maintain so we should be thankful nevertheless that Not Lame Records has wisely chosen to release the latest pop event from Powell. Like the CD booklet says "All songs, sounds and sights by Doug Powell". Turning in a one man band performance that is as equally worthy and amazing as the solid catchy tunes heís written here, Powell convinces fans once again of his pop aptitude. The CD maintains a consistent appeal from start to finish. Tracks like "Dear Me" and the CD closer "The Scent Of A Rose" go far to reassure pop fans that More is clearly more than just another good pop album, itís a great pop album. www.dougpowell.com / www.notlame.com 


 
  FISHER
True North
(Interscope)

One of the most promising new bands of 2000 is Fisher featuring vocalist Kathy and multi-instrumentalist songwriter/producer Ron Wasserman. Fisher conjures up a full-bodied and quite original progressive pop sound, evidently inspired by the music of Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Not too heavy, but dreamlike and with just the right beat, True North establishes Fisher with class and quality. Although Fisher has been featured with select tracks in several high profile movies and TV shows, their first full length CD obviously does the trick and puts them over the top. Kathy and Ron are accompanied by a seasoned crew of like minded cohorts and guest players including fine jobs by drummer Larry Ciancia and guitarists Cush and Emerson Swinford. Recorded in L.A., True North adds up to a most promising start from Fisher. www.fishertheband.com 


 
  SPOCKíS BEARD
V
(Metal Blade / Radiant)

Listen to RealAudio sample: All On A Sunday 

When it comes to renewing the spirit of progressive rock music, thereís no better intergalactic musical force than Spockís Beard. From the outset the constant source of inspiration of the Spock sound has risen from group conceptualist/keyboardist Neal Morse and his guitar ace brother Alan Morse. On V the brothers are ably assisted by long time members Ryo Okumoto (keyboards), Dave Meros (bass) and drumming ace Nick Dí Virgilio, who recently recorded with Genesis. Possibly the groupís best album to date, V continues that spirit of vintage progressive rock and pop that continues to be the Spockís trademark. After a spin or two, the centerpiece of the album is clearly the 16:30 lead off track called "At The End Of The Day", although V maintains a high level interest throughout the disc. Seasoned prog fans will spot key Spock influences which tap into sound fields first mined by U.K. heavyweights like Yes and Gentle Giant. A major player in the music world, Spockís Beard keeps the spirit of progressive rock burning bright on V. www.spocksbeard.com 


 
  ERIC JOHNSON
& ALIEN LOVE CHILD

Live And Beyond
(Favored Nations)

For his first release on the Steve Vai run Favored Nations imprint, guitar-slinger Eric Johnson has chosen to release a recent live set with his Alien Love Child combo. According to Johnson, "This album and band have been a real cathartic experience for me. Itís taught me to see the big picture and appreciate the magic that happens as it happens." The first thing the strikes you upon listening to Live And Beyond is Johnsonís total mastery of the fretboard, at times echoing Eric Claptonís guitar work on those classic live Cream albums from the late Ď60s. Anchored by the tight rhythm section of Bill Maddox (drums) and Chris Maresh (bass), Alien Love Child quickly settles into an entirely solid and satisfying blues rock groove. The mostly instrumental CD adds in three vocal numbers featuring Johnson (on "Shape Iím In") and blues belter Malford Milligan. The vocal tracks are impressive enough, but Johnsonís effortlessly executed and fluid guitar leads really come to life on the albumís atmospheric instrumentals, especially the lead off cut "Zenland" and "Rain". The guitarist adds, "It was a lot of fun, we took things a little bit farther than normal and broadened the sound by playing a wider selection of material. Mostly it was about having a good time with some great music and some of my favorite musicians." Recorded live in the guitaristís hometown of Austin, Texas, the 10 track CD features futuristic artwork and, perhaps hinting at the good music to come, Johnson & Co. close out Live And Beyond with a bonus studio track entitled "World Of Trouble". www.favorednations.com 


 
  JEFF LARSON
Room For Summer
(New Surf)

Listen to RealAudio sample: Room For Summer 

So many of todayís rising pop artists draw upon the best pop and rock music of the Ď60s and Ď70s. A good example is the latest CD from San Francisco-based pop pro Jeff Larson. A close approximation would be to compare Larsonís sound to pop icon Marshall Crenshaw, but with more of a West Coast Brian Wilson and America kind of vibe. A solid singer and songwriter, Larson is no newcomer to the pop and surf-rock scene having worked previously with John Blakeley from instro surf-rock legends The Sandals. A first rate example of where the catchy West Coast surf-rock and pop sound is heading in the 21st Century, the 15-track Room For Summer features strong contributions from Gerry Beckley (of America on backing vocals) as well as Jeff Foskett, who is currently touring as the guitarist in Brian Wilsonís supporting band. In addition to the top production and guitar work from both Foskett and guitarist Hank Linderman, Room For Summer also features fine percussion work from Denny Weston Jr. (drums). www.new-surf.com/jefflarson 


 
  PAUL SIMON
Youíre The One
(Warner Bros.)

Ever since his days as a chart topping singer-songwriter during the Simon & Garfunkel years, Paul Simon has been constantly evolving his craft. Of course Simonís come a long way since the heady Top 40 days and hits like "Sounds Of Silence", "Mrs. Robinson" and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters". Now Paul Simon returns again for his first album of the new millennium. While Youíre The One might not be filled with the immediately catchy pop tunes Simon became famous for during the mid to late Ď60s, the album does provide a series of musical sketches about Simonís ongoing life story. The album also clearly reflects Simonís fortunate marriage to singer-songwriter Edie Brickell. In Simonís own words, "I donít believe in describing my music. I think it limits the ways in which a listener can interact with the songs. If thereís any thematic unity to this album, it is in itís optimism, in itís belief in a spiritual reality that most of us - or at least some of us - will recognize." Youíre The One spotlights strong support from long time Simon cohorts Vincent Nguini (guitar), Bakithi Kumalo (bass) as well as drumming great Steve Gadd. Simonís tasty electric and acoustic guitar work is also well recorded. Youíre The One takes a little time to get into. Some tracks like the title track and "Old" draw you right in while others are clearly worth the time to take some getting used to. Simon may be getting old but heís also getting better and his musical creativity is still timeless. www.paulsimon.com 


 
  MERRIE AMSTERBURG
Little Steps
(Q Division / Zoe)

The Rounder Records affiliate label Zoe Records scored big time last year with their great Jules Shear album entitled Allow Me. Now Zoe attains those same impressive pop heights with the second solo album from Boston-based Merrie Amsterburg. Some of the elements in Ms. Amsterburgís arsenal include her top songwriting and vocal skills and as an instrumentalist she excels on 6 & 12 string electric guitars, acoustic and baritone guitars and Indian banjo to name a few. Lending a hand here are some fine players including Peter Linton (guitar, lap steel). Amsterburgís music has been described as a cross between Peter Gabriel and Joni Mitchell, yet as a unique singer and songwriter sheís clearly in a class of her own. Anyone who enjoyed the last Jules Shear album on Zoe, is well advised to hear Little Steps. www.rounder.com 


 
  NELLY FURTADO
Whoa, Nelly!
(Dreamworks)

The Dreamworks Records debut from singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado is one of the truly auspicious pop albums of 2000. A mixture of the artistís Portuguese heritage and her love of R&B and hip-hop music, Whoa, Nelly! sparkles with a solid, catchy 21st Century pop groove from start to finish. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, Furtado musically came of age this past year at the tender age of 20 sharing a stage with luminaries like Chrissie Hynde and Sarah McLaughlin on the latest Lilith Fair tour and she readily admits, "It was like a dream. I just kept thinking, ĎWhat am I doing here with all these seasoned pros?". Furtado adds, "I wanted to make a pop album, something with the edge of the Portuguese and Brazilian music I love, but also something happy. I liked the challenge of making heartfelt, emotional music thatís upbeat and hopeful - like Cornershop and Beck and Bob Marley have been able to do." Great songs and a top performance from all the musicians on hand here are two more reasons why Whoa, Nelly! should be the ticket to expose Ms. Furtado to the wider audience she clearly deserves. www.nellyfurtado.com 

 
  ITíS MY PARTY!
Can I Get To Know You Better?
(Mister Cat)

Named after the famous pre-Beatles pop song by singer Leslie Gore, the CD debut from Rochester, N.Y.-based Itís My Party sounds like a musical time tunnel trip back to the early Ď60s girl group sounds of The Shangrilas and others. Essentially the brainchild of producer John Giotto, Itís My Party spotlights the teenage singing trio of Aubrey and English twin sisters Cara and Rhian. Recorded in mono using vintage instruments and microphones, the CD succeeds in sounding like something recorded nearly 40 years ago. Giotto has assembled a round of top session guys with strings and horn players adding authentic touches. Perhaps the album is best described by singer Cara when she adds, "Many groups nowadays are all into depression, and rarely does a song address happiness or hope. Here thereís a melody that still brings a smile to your face." The CD debut from Itís My Party will surely bring a smile to long time oldies radio fans and younger fans looking to know what the music was like back in the early Ď60s. www.itsmypartyonline.com 

 
     
 
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