Jason Falkner – All Quiet On The Noise Floor

Jason Falkner - All Quiet On The Noise FloorYet another Jason Falkner solo album that has so far only been released in Japan (as of this writing, his previous album, I’m OK You’re OK, still has yet to hit our shores as anything other than an import), All Quiet On The Noise Floor may well be the best thing Falkner’s done since Can You Still Feel? Still drenching everything in a guitars-at-the-front-of-the-mix 1970s power pop style, Falkner’s songs are better this time around. Tunes such as “Maybe The Universe”, “Doin’ Me In” and “Emotion Machine” are instantly catchy and hard to get out of your head.

I also have to give a recommendation to the mostly-acoustic “Counting Sheep”, one of the most infectious melodies Falkner has graced us with since his first album. Another catchy number, “My Home Is Not A House”, dates back to Falkner’s well-circulated demo tapes and originated during his brief stint as one of The Grays. “Doin’ Me In” is a fast-paced, talky rocker that lands somewhere between The Clash and The Knack in style (and that’s not something one can say about just any song).

4 out of 4If there’s a single problem with All Quiet On The Noise Floor, it’s that, once again, one has to blow a lot of money (relatively speaking, for a single CD) to get a Japanese import. Falkner himself has implored his fans to hold off an wait for a domestic release, which he assures us is coming – his logic there is that he’ll only land a North American tour if a domestic release generates significant sales. As if his fans are going to hold off that long (and as if his fans won’t go ahead and buy any eventual U.S. release anyway, just for a shot at that tour).

Order this CD

  1. Princessa (4:20)
  2. Emotion Machine (3:12)
  3. Counting Sheep (3:58)
  4. Evangeline (4:02)
  5. The Lie In Me (5:17)
  6. Maybe The Universe (5:17)
  7. Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus (4:02)
  8. My Home Is Not A House (3:51)
  9. Doin’ Me In (3:49)
  10. Y.E.S. (5:40)
  11. This Time ’09 (4:40)

Released by: Noise McCartney Records / Phantom
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 48:08

Jason Falkner – Bedtime With The Beatles Part Two

Bedtime With The Beatles 2Arriving as a bit of a surprise in between albums of sublime original material, Jason Falkner’s original Bedtime With The Beatles had a curious mandate of its own: recasting Lennon-McCartney classics as lullabyes for little Beatle-fans-to-be. And so help me, it worked – I always thought it was an incredibly relaxing album, but I didn’t realize the true power of it until years later when my own first child came along. Bedtime With The Beatles was a godsend. The arrival of this second volume of Falkner’s lullabye arrangements came out of nowhere too; maybe it’s because I don’t keep up with very many artists via fansites or MySpace or what have you, but I didn’t know it was in the works, and eagerly picked it up, because now I knew how handy it could be. It wasn’t just a matter of my personal tastes for enjoyment – I had a kid who desperately needed some new sleepytime material.

The problem there, however, is that Falkner’s arrangements on this second volume are much more “involved.” Great from an active listening standpoint, but there’s simply too much going on for it to reach quite the same level of relaxation as the first volume. In places – I’m looking at you, “Penny Lane” – Bedtime Part Two almost ceases to by lullabye music and slides its toes adventurously over the line into downtempo lounge arrangements of the Beatles.

That’s not to say that nothing here lives up to the sleepytime potential of the first volume. “She’s Leaving Home” – which was very nearly a lullabye to begin with in its original form – is positively inspired, with “Here Comes The Sun” coming in a close second as my favorite. “Hey Jude” has low-key vocals-as-instruments that really straddle the line between relaxing and active enough that they demand attention. Some songs, such as “Norwegian Wood”, “Something” and “I Will” try very hard to reach for the sound of the original recordings, with more elaborate guitar work or production, and as such they become “active listening” material. With its back-tracked keyboards and chiming guitar chords, I can’t really imagine anyone drifting off to Falkner’s cover of “Norwegian Wood”.

3 out of 4And what does the little E think? Maybe it was just because it was new music to his ears, combined with his general tendency toward trying to avoid sleep at all costs, but my attempt to introduce him to Bedtime With The Beatles Part Two confirmed my suspicions: he got too involved with listening to it to really relax. But in the end, soft-pedaling my one-year-old into his indoctrination as a potential Beatles listener can’t be all bad – but it’s not all meant for bed either.

Order this CD

  1. Norwegian Wood (3:28)
  2. Something (3:37)
  3. She’s Leaving Home (4:33)
  4. Penny Lane (4:27)
  5. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (4:38)
  6. Here Comes The Sun (3:33)
  7. I Will (2:07)
  8. Hey Jude (5:08)
  9. Yesterday (2:36)
  10. Good Night (4:54)

Released by: Adrenaline
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 39:01

Jason Falkner – I’m OK, You’re OK

Jason Falkner has been absent from my CD shelf for far too long. The funny thing about Falkner is that, even with just two full studio albums, two or three collections of demos, rarities and B-sides, one cover album and one EP, he’s hailed as a genius by a rabid fan base (of which I must admit to being a member). The irony of it is that his third studio album of original music hasn’t gotten a nibble from an American label as I write this; it’s currently available only as a pricey Japanese import.

Falkner’s sunny feel-good power pop is one of a kind. The raucous, jubilant guitar riff that runs throughout “The Knew”, the interweaving, meandering vocal harmonies of “Stephanie Tells Me”, and the hard-to-shake-out-of-your-head hooks of “Say It’s True” and “Komplicated Man” demonstrate why the man and his music have that devoted following. “Anondah” and “This Life Of Mine” hearken back to the best soft rock/power ballads of the ’70s, without most of the excesses cliches that go with that sub-genre (they’re not significantly longer than most of the other tracks, though they “feel” a bit more epic). Falkner also slides comfortably into ’80s-style new wave with songs like “Runaway” and the low-key but infectiously hummable “Hurricane”. As usual, he’s not emulating any particular song from those eras or styles, but is making them his own.

There’s a consistent laid-back vibe to I’m OK, You’re OK, and there aren’t many real “peaks” that break with that mid-tempo feel, with the possible exception of “The Knew”, and even then, there isn’t a blow-down-the-door standout track on the level of “Lost Myself” – and that was the standout from a 6-track EP. That’s not to count points off, but I’m OK gives us a much more subdued side of Falkner, without any big showpieces along the lines of “Lost Myself”, “I Live” or “Holiday”.

4 out of 4There’s one Japan-only bonus track, “I Don’t Mind”, which is a slightly rockier take on a lyric and a musical idea that’s used elsewhere on the album, almost as if it’s a demo. Whether or not that one song alone will keep Falkner’s fans interested enough to spring for the expensive import edition is really going to be up to the individual. Now I just hope there won’t be such a long wait between this and Falkner’s next solo album.

Order this CD

  1. This Time (4:39)
  2. NYC (3:52)
  3. The Knew (3:21)
  4. Stephanie Tells Me (4:50)
  5. Hurricane (4:51)
  6. Anondah (5:06)
  7. Komplicated Man (3:13)
  8. Runaway (6:24)
  9. Say It’s True (5:04)
  10. Contact (4:04)
  11. This Life Of Mine (4:13)
  12. I Don’t Mind (5:11)

Released by: Noise McCartney Records / Phantom
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 54:48

Jason Falkner – Necessity: The 4-Track Years

Jason Falkner - Necessity: The 4-Track YearsI like Necessity: The 4-Track Years, a collection of lo-fi demo recordings by rising power pop star Jason Falkner, and yet it bugs the heck out of me.

It really says something about Falkner’s fans that they’ll actually buy (A) a CD of home demo recordings, and (B) a CD of songs which, for the most part, they’ve already heard on his two solo albums to date. It’s kind of a treat to hear these songs in their work-in-progress raw state, but the thing about Falkner is that he’s enough of a perfectionist that the difference between demo and finished recording isn’t always that great. “She Goes To Bed”, for example, possibly my favorite Falkner song of all, isn’t all that different here than it is from the final version that made it onto Falkner’s first solo album. Now, I’m impressed that this was mostly done with four-track recorders (a basic piece of home studio gear on which I’ve never managed to sound this good), but Falkner works his arrangements out in his head obsessively – and the result is primarily a difference in the fidelity of the recording.

Such songs as “She Is Not The Enemy” make their first official appearance on record here, though we Falkner fans are notorious for finding the man’s old recordings in bootleg form, so chances are, if you’re into Falkner, there won’t be much new here. “His Train” is just about worth the cost of admission though. I did, however, like the slightly more-chilled-out take on “Hectified”, with its catchy little guitar hook.

Good stuff, but what bugs me is that Necessity is one of several compilations of Jason Falkner’s demos, early indie label singles, B-sides, covers and whatnot that have been released. Some of these have been intended for foreign markets, but most if not all of them overlap heavily in terms of the material used – and this is from an artist whose professional music career as a solo artist spans not quite a decade (less than a 3 out of 4decade as of this compilation’s release), and only two original albums. Falkner’s supposedly been working on a new album for a while, but the number of times he’s recycled old material endlessly in the interim. It’s not as if Jason Falkner owes me a new CD, but after so many demo/B-side/indie label single compilations, part of me is hoping to hear something new from him soon.

Order this CD

  1. She Is Not The Enemy (3:45)
  2. She Goes To Bed (4:13)
  3. His Train (3:43)
  4. Song For Her (2:29)
  5. I Live (3:09)
  6. Miracle Medicine (3:24)
  7. Hard Way (4:46)
  8. My Home Is Not A House (3:29)
  9. Take Good Care Of Me (4:25)
  10. Hectified (2:58)
  11. Road Kill Rules (4:02)
  12. I Go Astray (3:54)

Released by: Phantom
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 44:17

Jason Falkner – Bedtime With The Beatles

Jason Falkner - Bedtime With The BeatlesWe’ve been awaiting something new from Jason Falkner since his second solo album. But while some diehard fans may have felt Bedtime With The Beatles was a misstep for their favorite practitioner of power pop, it does serve as something that, perhaps, another all-original solo project wouldn’t have done: it’s a testament not only to the enduring power of the Lennon/McCartney catalog, but also to Falkner’s incredible musicianship.

Falkner is known for playing virtually everything on his solo albums himself, and this album is no exception, with the only session musicians manning classical string instruments. The album’s packaging hypes it as a lullaby album, suitable for singing baby to sleep, and indeed it is quite relaxing; the webmaster’s cats dozed off listening to it pretty quickly. But those who stay awake can marvel at the intricate new arrangements. Beatles tunes have long been fodder for instrumentals, but this isn’t elevator music. It may be slowed down, but the sheer beauty revealed in some of the songs is staggering.

The album opens with “Blackbird”, the original version of which I’ll fess up to not particularly liking, and which I have to admit may even be the best track on the entire disc. Some of the others songs are among my personal favorites in the Beatles’ repertoire: “Across The Universe”, “Here, There And Everywhere”, “And I 4 out of 4Love Her” and “I’m Only Sleeping”, which in particular has an appropriately dreamy quality.

Lyrics are included for those who literally do want to make a lullaby out of the Beatles classics…and those of us who still have our eyes open at the end of “The Long And Winding Road” sincerely hope that Jason Falkner will find some time in his schedule to do another Bedtime With The Beatles album.

Order this CD

  1. Blackbird (3:36)
  2. Across The Universe (4:07)
  3. And I Love Her (3:07)
  4. I’m Only Sleeping (4:11)
  5. If I Fell (3:43)
  6. The Fool On The Hill (3:46)
  7. Mother Nature’s Son (2:51)
  8. Michelle (3:14)
  9. Here, There And Everywhere (3:53)
  10. In My Life (3:25)
  11. The Long And Winding Road (3:58)

Released by: Sony Wonder
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 40:09

Lynne Me Your Ears: Tribute To The Music Of Jeff Lynne

Lynne Me Your EarsThe premise of this double-disc compilation is simple: various modern pop artists, most of them enjoying cult indie label status (and a few of them refugees from major labels too), revisit the songs of one of their musical heroes, ELO’s Jeff Lynne. Colorado’s own Not Lame Records has been teasing the heck out of this release for months, only to watch it be bogged down by politics (the father/son duo of Randy and Tal Bachman, each of whom were originally slated to contribute a song, pulled out) and delays (a printing error in the first run of liner notes booklets which caused the collection to slip well past its original pre-Christmas 2001 release date). And now that it’s here, was it worth the lengthy wait?

The answer is, in most cases, absolutely. The covers (which don’t limit themselves to ELO material but also cover Lynne’s contributions to the Traveling Wilburys, a 1960s U.K. group known as the Idle Race, and his solitary solo album) vary wildly, ranging from faithful homages to reinterpretations in a completely new style.

Some of the better “near-beer” covers include former R.E.M. producer Mitch Easter’s collaboration with Bobby Sutliff on the first ELO single, “10538 Overture”; Michael Carpenter’s near-carbon-copy of Lynne’s solo single “Every Little Thing”; Jason Falkner’s raw cover of “Do Ya”, a stripped-down, Buddy Holly-ized cover of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Is King” by Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings, and an accurate-down-to-the-overmodulation-distortion copy of the Idle Race’s “Morning Sunshine” by Jeremy.

The real triumphs of Lynne Me Your Ears, however, are those artists who took extensive liberties and created something completely new – Ross Rice’s hip-hop-ified cover of “Evil Woman” is both funky and up-to-date, and Tony Visconti (former Move and Moody Blues producer) turns in a tasty new take on “Mr. Blue Sky”, starting out as a rap and then tumbling through every style in the book by the end of the song’s lengthy instrumental coda. Prairie Sons and Daughters transform the eloquence of “One Summer Dream” into a spiky, guitar-drenched masterpiece that also takes a detour into “In Old England Town” from ELO’s second album. That multiple-song-tributes-in-a-single-track trick is repeated masterfully by Rick Altizer, who leaps from the soulful opening guitar solo of “Laredo Tornado” into a thundering modernized version of “Boy Blue”. Former Move vocalist Carl Wayne, ironically, takes the stage-musical feel of “Steppin’ Out” to its logical, grandiose conclusion (it was Wayne who stepped out of the Move in 1970, a departure that made way for Jeff Lynne to join the group). The Shazam squeezes the synths out of “Twilight” and turns it into a wonderful wash of electric guitar work (but keeps the harmonies intact), and “Turn To Stone” gets a similar treatment from Roger Klug. Sparkle*Jets UK turn the dreamy “Above The Clouds” into a cheerful, rockin’ power pop number.

Perhaps the most shocking transformation bestowed upon any of the songs here is “On The Run”, a rapid-fire techno-before-there-was-techno tune from 1979’s Discovery which is rendered here by Sixpence None The Richer as a relaxing acoustic piece with a slow, majestic gait and Leigh Nash’s always pleasant voice. It has to be heard to be believed – this may be the best example on Lynne Me Your Ears of a band taking one of the old ELO chestnuts and making it their own.

There are a small number of misses for all of those hits, however; Peter Holsapple’s cover of the Move’s “No Time” has yet to click with me – the harmonies seem to be a misfire in some places. The Heavy Blinkers’ cover of “You Took My Breath Away”, itself a Roy Orbison tribute penned by Lynne for the second Traveling Wilburys album, lacks the melancholy of the original and comes out sounding a little too sunny. And the “Sweet Is The Night” cover heard here seems to have lost a lot of what made the original so appealing.

4 out of 4Overall, however, a nice treat for ELO/Lynne fans, and hey, your mileage may even vary on which songs worked and which ones didn’t. Highly recommended – and, in the face of Sony’s recent reticence to continue the promised remastering of the entire ELO catalogue, it may be the last ELO related treat we fans get for quite a while. Soak it up slowly and enjoy.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. 10538 Overture – Bobby Sutliff & Mitch Easter (4:35)
  2. Ma Ma Ma Belle – Earl Slick (4:05)
  3. Telephone Line – Jeffrey Foskett (4:49)
  4. Do Ya – Jason Falkner (3:58)
  5. Sweet Is The Night – Ben Lee (3:28)
  6. Rockaria! – Pat Buchanan (3:49)
  7. Every Little Thing – Michael Carpenter (3:52)
  8. No Time – Peter Holsapple (3:59)
  9. Showdown – Richard Barone (4:26)
  10. Handle With Care – Jamie Hoover (3:25)
  11. Strange Magic – Mark Helm (3:54)
  12. Evil Woman – Ross Rice (4:51)
  13. Steppin’ Out – Carl Wayne (4:27)
  14. Don’t Bring Me Down – SWAG (3:13)
  15. One Summer Dream – Prairie Sons & Daughters (7:16)
  16. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head – Doug Powell (4:57)
    Disc two

  1. Twilight – The Shazam (3:11)
  2. Mr. Blue Sky – Tony Visconti (5:02)
  3. You Took My Breath Away – The Heavy Blinkers (3:07)
  4. Message From The Country – The Balls of France (4:28)
  5. The Minister – Ferenzik (4:43)
  6. Xanadu – Neilson Hubbard and Venus Hum (3:31)
  7. When Time Stood Still – Bill Lloyd (3:27)
  8. Above The Clouds – Sparkle*Jets UK (4:00)
  9. Rock And Roll Is King – Walter Clevenger and the Dairy Kings (3:14)
  10. Morning Sunshine – Jeremy (2:19)
  11. Boy Blue – Rick Altizer (3:45)
  12. Livin’ Thing – Pray For Rain (3:57)
  13. On The Run – Sixpence None The Richer (2:37)
  14. Bluebird Is Dead – Todd Rundgren (5:06)
  15. Turn To Stone – Ruger Klug (5:11)
  16. Eldorado – Fleming and John (6:41)

Released by: Not Lame Records
Release date: 2002
Disc one total running time: 69:04
Disc two total running time: 64:19

Jason Falkner – Can You Still Feel?

Jason Falkner - Can You Still Feel?It took me a while to warm to the second solo project by Jellyfish’s original guitarist, and after a week or so of listening to it, the thought has occurred that perhaps I set my expectations too high for it as well. Opening up with a very brief, low-key opening, the album jumps into high gear with Author Unknown (which actually borrows its title from Jason’s first album). Again, the emphasis seems to be on 70’s-style power pop, though the production values here skew a little more Beatlesque and groovy than the first album did. My favorites – so far – include “Revelation”, the very cool “Holiday” (which also has some of the best lyrics I’ve heard anyone write in a long time), and the heavy “I Already Know”. I can’t put a finger on why the album as a whole doesn’t grab me like its predecessor did – some of its songs are certainly worthy of 4 out of 4the honor – but it could be the leaning toward obviously-dated 70’s production techniques and keyboards, even though I tend to enjoy a lot of music that really is from that period. But in retrospect, it took me a long time to warm to some of the songs on Jason’s first album which now rank as my favorites, so it may be a month or three before the real brilliance behind Can You Still Feel? hits me.

Order this CD

  1. The Invitation (0:26)
  2. Author Unknown (3:32)
  3. Revelation (5:45)
  4. My Lucky Day (3:25)
  5. Holiday (3:59)
  6. Eloquence (3:42)
  7. I Already Know (4:26)
  8. See You Again (5:06)
  9. Honey (4:15)
  10. The Plan (4:45)
  11. All God’s Creatures (2:54)
  12. Good Night, Sweet Night (4:10)

Released by: Elektra
Release date: 1999
Total running time: 46:27