Christine McVie – In The Meantime

Christine McVie - In The MeantimeYou’ll probably remember about a year ago when I was yammering on about my disappointment with Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Will, the first studio album in some 15 years with both Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham on board – but also the first studio album in many more years without Christine McVie. When I heard Friend, the first single from McVie’s first post-Mac solo album, I thought to myself “Ah, so that’s where the real Fleetwood Mac sound went – Christine took it with her!” After listening to the entire album from which that song springs, though, one wonders if that train of thought doesn’t run in both directions.

First off, let’s talk about what’s good on this album. Christine’s still got that voice, that husky voice that’s been sending shivers up and down my spine since I was young enough to have no business having those kind of shivers. Everything’s pretty much mid-tempo, pleasant adult-contemporary fare.

On the downside…everything’s pretty much mid-tempo, pleasant adult-contemporary fare. Christine gave us (or gave Fleetwood Mac) such songs as the rockin’ “Isn’t It Midnight” and the stately and beautiful “Songbird”. And she herself has had some knockout uptempo numbers like her best solo hit to date, “Got A Hold On Me”. When the only standouts from this collection I can think of are “Friend”, “Easy Come”, “Easy Go”, “Liar” and the just-about funky “Bad Journey”, maybe there’s a hint that a lot of the material on In The Meantime sounds very similar. There are few tracks that jump out and grab you, and arguably the song that has the best chance of doing that is right at the beginning of the album.

rating: 3 out of 4Ultimately, it’s interesting. One could probably take a few select tracks from In The Meantime, put them back to back with a few select tracks from Say You Will, and almost have the makings of the best Fleetwood Mac album since Mirage. Numerous tracks on both albums hold their own as they are right now, but the magical interplay is missing, and both projects seem somehow diminished. That said, I’m willing to say that McVie solo is more cohesive than Mac minus McVie, and In The Meantime is on the lower end of my three-star range.

Order this CD

  1. Friend (4:31)
  2. You Are (3:35)
  3. Northern Star (5:22)
  4. Bad Journey (4:29)
  5. Anything Is Possible (3:15)
  6. Calumny (4:55)
  7. So Sincere (3:40)
  8. Easy Come, Easy Go (4:32)
  9. Liar (3:53)
  10. Sweet Revenge (3:50)
  11. Forgiveness (3:45)
  12. Givin’ It Back (4:43)

Released by: Koch Records
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 50:33

Moody Blues – A Question Of Balance

Moody Blues - A Question Of BalanceFor the re-invention album that it’s supposed to be, the Moody Blues’ A Question Of Balance really seems to be less about re-inventing the seminal ’60s band’s sound and more about changing how the band achieved that sound. With some of their more eloquent numbers approaching the point where they couldn’t be duplicated outside of the studio, the Moodies tried to return to a more guitar-based sound that they could achieve on stage (keep in mind, this was over three decades ago, before they could get anyone’s symphony orchestra to back them up in front of Red Rocks or any other rocks). And yet there’s still a whiff of the epic here, largely thanks to early sampling/loop-based keyboards and synths like the Mellotron. Hence, not a huge change in the sound, but it was becoming easier to pull it off live.

And you couldn’t get much more of an epic opening to an album than “Question”‘s bam-BAAAAM! opening if you tried. That song in particular is one I’ve always loved from a lyrical standpoint, with the underlying question of “why are these things happening?” tackling the “hate and death and war” that outlasted the 60s peace movement. Hayward’s lyrics don’t bother asking where we went wrong, but instead asks why the question can’t be answered. “Question” = rock music + metaphysics. (Ed. note: theLogBook’s Assistant Editor Dave Thomer has since informed me that this is more a question of epistemology than metaphysics. And y’know, I bet he’s right.) Either way, it’s hard to beat.

And as much as I like that track, there’s a bonus – nine whole other songs! The metaphysical bent continues with “How Is It (We Are Here)?”, a nice follow-on from “Question”, and then things get a little more personal with “The Tide Rushes In” (a song, according to the liner notes interview, written by John Lodge in the wake of a fight with his wife at the time). I’m torn on “Tide” – I’ve never felt that it was up to much lyrically, and yet the vocal performance in and of itself is worth the price of admission.

“Don’t You Feel Small?” brings back the philosophical feel, with an unusual combination of the Moodies’ trademark harmonies and the exact same lyrics being whispered loudly. The harmonies return for the catchy “Tortoise And The Hare”, a classic bit of Moodies rock. Things get a bit southern-fried with the bluesy opening guitar riff of “It’s Up To You”, another song worthy of inclusion on any best-of anyone might care to put together. “Minstrel’s Song” belongs on there too, by the way, with its enchanting, last-gasp-of-the-60s “everywhere, love is all around” chorus.

“Dawning Is The Day” doesn’t stand out quite as much as the spate of excellent songs before it, but lulls the listener into a false sense of security before Mike Pinder’s haunting “Melancholy Man” kicks in quietly. This 4 out of 4leads us into some Graeme Edge poetry in “The Balance” – y’know, it’s almost a clichè by now, but it’d almost be a crime to have a Moody Blues album that didn’t close on some of Graeme’s spoken-word poetry.

A Question Of Balance is one of the Moodies’ strongest early offerings, with not a single dud in the bunch. If the worst thing I can say about “Dawning Is The Day” is that it’s a fine song that just simply doesn’t stand out among a batch of positively stellar songs, that’s not bad. Highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Question (5:43)
  2. How Is It (We Are Here)? (2:44)
  3. And The Tide Rushes In (2:57)
  4. Don’t You Feel Small (2:37)
  5. Tortoise And The Hare (3:22)
  6. It’s Up To You (3:11)
  7. Minstrel’s Song (4:27)
  8. Dawning Is The Day (4:21)
  9. Melancholy Man (5:45)
  10. The Balance (3:28)

Released by: Threshold
Release date: 1970
Total running time: 38:35

Me First and the Gimme Gimmes – Take A Break

 Me First And The Gimme Gimmes don’t release their albums often enough for me. And this is one of their best ones yet. For those who haven’t heard me wax rhapsodic about the Gimmes before, they’re an all-star aggregation of members from other punk bands such as NOFX who gather to deliver a vicious kidney punch to much-deserving radio staples from the 60s, 70s and 80s – and it seems like the latter era is where Take A Break gets its inspiration. The Gimmes once again ride the volume, and their musical skills, up to “11” on the knob, proving that they can actually sing and they can actually play. Something else they can do is be funny as hell, as proven by the masterful touch of adding the Three Stooges’ “hello, hello, hello… hello!” harmony gag to the tail end of Lionel Richie’s ballad “Hello” (a song I used to dread hearing on the radio, though I love this reading of it). Other targets include “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?”, Whitney Houston’s “Save The Best For Last”, and…it’s as if the guys read my mind and plucked out a perfect songlist of tunes with whom I’ve held a grudge for a decade and a half.

4 out of 4So what’s next for the Gimmes? Hopefully an album within the next 12 months, and hopefully an album that drags some of country music’s most hackneyed hits, kicking and screaming, into the Gimmes’ unique punk stylings. Oh, how I can wish for both of those things. If the guys want to tour again in the meantime, however, and play somewhere close enough for me to see the show, I can see letting them have two years instead of just one.

Order this CD

  1. Where Do Broken Hearts Go (2:32)
  2. Hello (2:20)
  3. End Of The Road (3:02)
  4. Ain’t No Sunshine (1:46)
  5. Nothing Compares 2 U (2:41)
  6. Crazy (3:10)
  7. Isn’t She Lovely (2:27)
  8. I Believe I Can Fly (3:03)
  9. Oh Girl (2:00)
  10. I’ll Be There (2:09)
  11. Mona Lisa (2:52)
  12. Save The Best For Last (2:07)
  13. Natural Woman (2:37)

Released by: Fat Wreck Chords
Release date: 2003
Total running time: 32:46

Paul Melancon – Camera Obscura

Paul Melançon - Camera ObscuraHailing from Georgia, Paul Melancon is working on carving himself a nice little niche in indie power pop circles. And to listen to Camera Obscura is to discover why he’s earning that respect – Melancon is obviously a student of the Beatles and Brian Wilson, wistful melodies and vocal harmonies, and densely wordy songwriting. The song that drew me to this album is an unabashed valentine to Melancon’s personal pop pedigree, a song in which the singer yearns to “be just like Jeff Lynne.” That proclamation in itself would be enough to get my attention, but this song is easily the high point of the album as it effortlessly appropriates many of the ELO frontman’s trademark licks – call-and-respond backing vocals, stratospheric synth glissandos, a guitar riff that tastes just a little like “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, and real live strings. If someone was going to pay a musical tribute to Lynne, I can’t think of a better way – and yet the song is playful too, trading on Lynne’s reputation as a studio-bound recluse and hinting that the person singing the song, by trying too hard to be like his hero, is headed for a ruined relationship.

Those aren’t the only bittersweet lyrics, and that’s far from the only good song. “Little Plum” summons up a Beach Boys vibe that begs for a singalong, “Hitchcock Blonde” tells a sordid tale of a bad girl about to get even badder (but with a surprisingly bouncy melody), and “Fine`” may well be the best song on the entire CD, with a slow, stately return to the kind of expansive soft-rock vocal harmony that used to be the mainstay of groups like America. I went through the entire CD and got stuck on this six-minute track, listening to it over and over 4 out of 4again until I started singing along with the background harmonies, having learned the lyrics just from repeat listening. It’s a beautiful thing. Not many songs get me to do that the first time around.

You can bet that, when Paul Melancon’s next album comes out, I won’t be taking my sweet time to get it. Further proof that many of the real hidden gems of rock ‘n’ roll are, without a doubt, migrating to the indie labels. Camera Obscura is just a stellar album.

Order this CD

  1. Overture (3:31)
  2. King Sham (3:21)
  3. Sherman (4:46)
  4. Now Wait For Last Year (3:34)
  5. Entr’acte (3:25)
  6. Jeff Lynne (4:25)
  7. Hey, California (4:39)
  8. Little Plum (4:04)
  9. Hitchcock Blonde (3:50)
  10. Finè (6:44)
  11. You’re So Good To Me (unlisted bonus track – 2:40)

Released by: Daemon Records
Release date: 2002
Total running time: 44:59

Bill Mumy – Dying To Be Heard

Bill Mumy - Dying To Be HeardYou may know him as Lennier or Will Robinson or that creepy kid who cropped up again after 40 years in the Twilight Zone, but Bill Mumy’s also a more than capable musician, as demonstrated by this early solo effort.

It’s easy to say that Dylan is a prominent influence on Mumy’s own brand of singwriting, but think electric Dylan here. Mumy lets loose with some wailing electric guitar work in the background of his folky tunes. “Ambiguous Sky / Monte” is not only the best example of this electric-era Dylan influence, but it’s a catchy song with a very Dylanesque lyric. But Mumy isn’t just paying homage to Bob Dylan for the whole running time of the CD – at other times, he backs off of the electrics and goes for a feel-good folky sound, as with “My Sweet Seleena”. Other highlights include “Our Beautiful Life” and “Yes You In The Blue”.

And finally, you may laugh at the thought of Mumy penning a heartfelt, somber tune called “The Ballad Of William Robinson”, but don’t you dare laugh. It’s the crowning jewel of Dying To Be Heard, and actually puts a mature spin on Mumy’s adolescent Lost In Space character, updating us on what has happened to the Robinson family since their last televised adventures. The performance is outstanding, it’s some of Mumy’s best singing, and the whole song is built around a positively mesmerizing guitar lick with some equally hypnotic (and appropriately spaced-out) keyboard backing courtesy of Mumy’s son Seth. A must-listen, whether you liked the song’s inspiration or not.

3 out of 4It’s a pity that Bill Mumy isn’t the musical superstar he deserves to be. I applaud his acting talents, and I’ve always enjoyed them, but sometimes I think his screen fame has shafted him when it comes to getting his music taken seriously. Just about any Bill Mumy album will help you recover from the notion that every actor’s musical ambitions must necessarily culminate in a disaster of Golden Throats proportions. I highly recommend this one to you.

Order this CD

  1. Nero’s Fiddle (4:03)
  2. My Sweet Seleena (3:51)
  3. Ambiguous Sky / Monte (6:08)
  4. In The Grand Scheme Of Things (3:27)
  5. Dying To Be Heard (3:35)
  6. Our Beautiful Life (5:42)
  7. Yes You In The Blue (5:14)
  8. Waiting (Little Seattle Junkie) (7:48)
  9. Denver Thing (3:19)
  10. I Know We All Go (2:27)
  11. The Ballad Of William Robinson (3:35)

Released by: Renaissance Records
Release date: 1997
Total running time: 51:52

Paul McCartney – All The Best

Paul McCartney - All The BestSome people seem to take inordinate delight in downplaying Paul McCartney’s contributions to pop music, especially in his post-Beatles years. But I ask you: who can listen to “Coming Up”, “My Love” or “No More Lonely Nights” and say that Paul was past his prime when he coined these tunes? Forever doomed to be widely regarded as the cute, irreverent half of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting powerhouse, McCartney has always been capable of putting that perception to rest with his ballads. (C’mon, we are talking about the man chiefly responsible for “Hey Jude” and “Yesterday”.) Now, there are some tracks on here that do a lot to give McCartney’s solo portfolio that “cute, irreverent” label (I’m thinking “Band On The Run” and especially “Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey” – a song that some people refer to as “Hands Across The Water” – here), and a few that seem to go a bit far in trying to correct that perception (“Live And Let Die”) – but criticism of the lyrics aside, I still like just about everything on this collection.

It’s sad that Paul’s output and his chart-topping streak have come to a juddering halt in recent years – though I loved Flaming Pie – and this greatest hits disc is sorely in need of updating (thinking mainly of “The World Tonight” from Flaming Pie and “My Brave Face” here). But on its own, All My Best 4 out of 4puts the lie to the notion that Paul didn’t go anywhere after the Fab Four fell apart. Corny as some of them may seem now, all of these songs are appealing, and serve as a reminder that they were, after all, written by one half of the most successful songwriting duo in chart history. They may not have been number one with a bullet, but they did at least have wings.

Order this CD

  1. Band On The Run (5:14)
  2. Jet (4:10)
  3. Ebony And Ivory (3:43)
  4. Listen To What The Man Said (3:57)
  5. No More Lonely Nights (4:41)
  6. Silly Love Songs (5:56)
  7. Let ‘Em In (5:11)
  8. Say Say Say (3:56)
  9. Live And Let Die (3:14)
  10. Another Day (3:43)
  11. C Moon (4:35)
  12. Junior’s Farm (4:23)
  13. Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey (4:42)
  14. Coming Up (3:31)
  15. Goodnight Tonight (4:21)
  16. With A Little Luck (3:14)
  17. My Love (4:09)

Released by: Capitol
Release date: 1987
Total running time: 72:40

Listen To What The Man Said

Listen To What The Man Said: Popular Artists Pay Tribute To The Music Of Paul McCartney“What’s this?” I asked. “A Paul McCartney tribute album benefitting cancer charities and featuring the Finn Brothers? Sign me up!”

Actually, this nice little selection, proceeds from which go toward the fight against breast cancer, has many good covers of Macca’s post-Beatles best. Owsley kicks things off with a picture-perfect reading of “Band On The Run” which doesn’t stray very far from the original Wings recording. SR-71 turns “My Brave Face” – one of my favorite latter-day McCartney solo tunes simply by virtue of the fact that it isn’t “Hope & Deliverance” – into a gleeful hard-rock thrash. Semisonic also faithfully replicates “Jet”, rocking it out a bit but not so much that it’s unrecognizable. The Virgos give a similar treatment to “Maybe I’m Amazed”, while the Merrymakers punch up “No More Lonely Nights” (another personal favorite) a bit. Some of the other renditions fly under the radar a bit – Matthew Sweet’s “Every Night” for one.

And as for Tim and Neil Finn? It pains me to say it, but their cover of “Too Many People” is a mess – it sounds like an unrehearsed one-take-and-that’s-it wonder, without much effort. The arrangement isn’t organized, the sound quality isn’t even up to the standards of the brothers’ admittedly (and intentionally) lo-fi Finn album, and the vocals just smack of a cover band that’s been asked to play something they’d mostly forgotten. Sad to say, the Finn Brothers, who drew my attention to this collection, turned out to be its biggest disappointment. I was stunned. I was also looking forward to the They 3 out of 4Might Be Giants cover of “Ram On”, but it wasn’t so much disappointing as just inscrutably cryptic in its new arrangement.

Overall, a nice set – and one that truly turned my expectations on ear by introducing me to some excellent new artists while the known quantities gave me a wee bit of a let-down.

Order this CD

  1. Band On The Run – Owsley (5:14)
  2. My Brave Face – SR-71 (3:00)
  3. Junk – Kevin Hearn, Steven Page and Stephen Duffy (2:56)
  4. Jet – Semisonic (4:15)
  5. No More Lonely Nights – The Merrymakers (4:11)
  6. Let Me Roll It – Robyn Hitchcock (4:21)
  7. Too Many People – Finn Brothers (3:43)
  8. Dear Friend – The Minus 5 (4:45)
  9. Every Night – Matthew Sweet (2:56)
  10. Waterfalls – Sloan (4:21)
  11. Man We Was Lonely – World Party (2:59)
  12. Coming Up – John Faye Power Trip (3:43)
  13. Maybe I’m Amazed – Virgos (4:14)
  14. Love In Song – The Judybats (4:04)
  15. Warm And Beautiful – Linus of Hollywood (3:08)
  16. Ram On – They Might Be Giants (2:40)

Released by: Oglio
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 60:30