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

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

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2Hailed by many gamers as a big improvement over Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, Red Alert 2 refined the 3-D graphics engine introduced in its predecessor – and it rocked out the music. If there’s one thing that makes the Red Alert 2 soundtrack – which was available from Westwood Studios for a limited time around the game’s release – stand out from the rest, it’s a refreshing blast of heavy metal guitar. The real standout here is the blistering, fast-paced “Destroy”, though there are close runners-up: “Grinder” and “Industrofunk”. The six-string pyrotechnics are a nice addition to the by-now-familiar C&C style of techno music, but the old style isn’t completely lost – tracks 4 out of 4such as “Probing” and “Fortification” are pure old-school C&C cues that wouldn’t have been out of place in the original game.

This may actually be my favorite soundtrack from the Command & Conquer games, simply because it’s so different from the others, while still keeping the “feel” of what came before it.

Order this CD

  1. HM2 (3:44)
  2. Industrofunk (3:12)
  3. Ready The Army (4:57)
  4. Grinder (2:27)
  5. In Deep (3:24)
  6. Motorized (4:02)
  7. Power (3:56)
  8. 200 Meters (4:12)
  9. Destroy (4:38)
  10. Burn (4:37)
  11. Probing (4:19)
  12. Blow It Up (3:11)
  13. Eagle Hunter (4:16)
  14. Fortification (4:02)
  15. Jank (3:46)
  16. C&C In The House (4:06)

Released by: Westwood Studios / Electronic Arts
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 62:49

Daniel Gannaway – Bound And Suburban

Daniel Gannaway - Bound And SuburbanThis appealing self-published entry from New Zealand singer/songwriter Daniel Gannaway may be a low-key winner, but it’s a winner nonetheless – actually, it’s one of the best things that I’ve heard so far this year. Predominantly a one-man-and-his-guitar album with some drum machine and the occasional overdubbed keyboards and backing vocals, Bound And Suburban benefits from some self-assured musicianship and an excellent lyrical sensibility. In some ways, the best thumbnail description I can offer to the uninitiated is a combination of the lo-fi cool of the Finn Brothers or Sunglass and the hard-to-describe but distinct sound of the world-weary Celtic minstrel. Gannaway isn’t afraid to wax modern on several tracks either, with “Y’Hold My Court” standing out as a fine example of this.

My favorite track on the album happens to be the first, the majestically wistful “The Lights R’Out (Over Caldor)”, perhaps the most Celtic-sounding song of the entire set. It’s easy to see why this one was the lead track – Gannaway’s firing on all pistons here, with some outstanding guitar work, some light keyboards in all the right places, and vocals with are neither too thin nor too overpowering for the song. Other favorites include the appropriately slippery “Bourbon”, “Slide”, and the quirky “Achilles”. The entire album is relaxing, but never in a sleepy way.

If there’s one thing that Daniel could improve on in future releases, and I realize this is a difficult thing for any struggling musician to do with the limited resources that entails, would be to get some real drums in there, even if he’s got to get someone else in to play them. The drum machine worked well on rockier entries like “Image & Kool”, but as magnificently sweeping as “The Lights R’Out (Over Caldor)” already is, it could be positively magical with some real percussion in there. Some songs like “Not Your Lot” sidestepped the drum machine entirely or made only minimal use of it. Still, despite that, it says something that the songs weren’t 4 out of 4brought down by the drum machine – I just think some of them could be even better with someone hitting some real skins.

Highly recommended stuff. If, this year, you let me point you in the direction of just one artist you’ve never heard of, do check this one out.

Order this CD

  1. The Lights R’Out (Over Caldor) (6:02)
  2. Slide (6:50)
  3. Somewhere In Japan (Fishtank Soul) (6:00)
  4. Image & Kool (4:25)
  5. Not Your Lot (6:45)
  6. Bourbon (5:18)
  7. Y’Hold My Court (5:18)
  8. Bound And Suburban (4:35)
  9. Achilles (2:56)
  10. Where’s The Way? (5:38)

Released by: Daniel Gannaway
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 53:$7

[…]

Doctor Who: Music From The Audio Adventures Vol. 2

Doctor Who: Music From The Audio Adventures Vol. 2An unusual mix of music from Big Finish Productions’ wonderful Doctor Who Audio Adventures, Music From The New Audio Adventures Volume 2 presents cues from an episode that quite a few Who fans haven’t even heard. The exclusive one-parter Last Of The Titans, which was included on a free CD with Doctor Who Magazine’s first issue of 2001, seems like an odd choice, but it has an excellent score reminiscent of Dudley Simpson’s Doctor Who music of the 1970s. Moody, whimsical and just a little bit creepy at the same time, Last Of The Titans has music that suits it perfectly…even if half the people who hear the music haven’t heard the story.

The juiciest score on here, however, is the much more modern-sounding Shadow Of The Scourge (coincidentally, all three scores included on this album are from stories featuring Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor). Scourge, an adventure set in the era of the New Adventures novels published by Virgin between 1991 and 1997, benefits from some fantastically creepy music boasting everything from modern beats to some of the weirdest sounds I’ve ever heard coaxed out of a synthesizer. The Scourge cues are followed by a new piece of music, “Benny’s Theme”, which seems to be equal parts modern dance music and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Not actually heard in the story itself, it’s a fitting theme for archaeologist Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, the Doctor’s quirky companion in the New Adventures era.

By comparison, I’ve found that when taking in the entire CD in a single sitting, I’m still reeling from Shadow Of The Scourge by the time the relatively low-key, pseudo-orchestral score for The 4 out of 4Fires Of Vulcan kicks in. Nice in its own way, maybe the Fires Of Vulcan music should have been put before Scourge on the disc, though that also would’ve meant putting two synth-orchestral scores back-to-back, so I can see why things were sequenced this way.

In any event, the finished product is a testament to Alistair Lock’s ability to find what the story needs musically, and it’s a good listen.

Order this CD

  1. Vilgreth’s Ship (3:16)
  2. Tea And Shortcake (1:17)
  3. Bomb Warning (2:59)
  4. Troubling Thoughts (1:56)
  5. A Planet Saved, A Home Destroyed (2:47)
  6. Benny In The Circle (2:27)
  7. Hotel Relocation (3:27)
  8. Casting A Shadow (2:24)
  9. Consumed (2:35)
  10. The Doctor’s Head (1:45)
  11. Over The Edge (1:14)
  12. Facing Our Fears (6:27)
  13. Benny’s Theme (3:57)
  14. Arrival (1:55)
  15. The Street Of Plenty (2:28)
  16. Murranus’ Theme (1:47)
  17. Eumachia (3:04)
  18. The First Quake (2:50)
  19. Final Destination (2:01)
  20. Foreknowledge Of Disaster (3:12)
  21. The Sacrifice (1:35)
  22. Escape Plans Arrested (1:57)
  23. Hypnotic Escape (2:05)
  24. The Arena (2:42)
  25. The Fight (3:21)
  26. Death Of Pompeii (2:45)

Released by: Big Finish Productions
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 73:46

Butterfly Jones – Napalm Springs

Butterfly Jones - Napalm SpringsButterfly Jones is a new band that might sound familiar to fans of early-90s alternative rock – the group’s core is guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Michael Gurley and drummer/songwriter Phil Leavitt, two-thirds of the band dada. They bring their guitar-driven alt-rock sound to Butterfly Jones, with up-tempo songs that charge forward with great enthusiasm and thoughtful ballads that don’t go overboard on the emotion.

Standout songs on the album include “Suicide Bridge”, which has some excellent work on violin, viola and cello. Like many of the songs on the album, Bridge tiptoes on the line dividing hope and despair, with the narrator daring to lean toward hope – the bridge says, “In an instance everything can turn around / In an instance everything is lost / And all is found.”

“The Systematic Dumbing Down Of Terry Constance Jones” is a little bit odd, as Gurley gives a first-person perspective of the title character changing her ambitions to fit society’s expectations – it’s a very smart song, and I like it a lot, but I don’t know if people will find it presumptuous that Gurley would assume to speak for women in this way. I hope not.

“Are We In Love Again” ought to be the theme song for every on-again/off-again relationship, and is darned catchy besides. I particularly like the chorus, in which the title phrase alternates with quick yes-or-no questions that bounce between the yes-I-Rating: 4 out of 4love-you-no-I-can’t-stand-you extremes that have the narrator so confused. Gurley’s vocals, solid throughout the album, really shine here.

These three songs are probably my favorites on the disc, but there’s not a bad song on the album. Definitely worth a listen or five.

Order this CD in the Store

  1. Napalm Springs (4:19)
  2. Suicide Bridge (4:25)
  3. Anywhere But Now (3:44)
  4. Sophie (3:05)
  5. Alright (6:01)
  6. Are We In Love Again (3:28)
  7. Wonder (3:13)
  8. Sunshine And Ecstacy (2:43)
  9. Blue Roses (4:06)
  10. The Systematic Dumbing Down Of Terry Constance Jones (3:43)
  11. When People Are Mean (2:44)
  12. It’s Cool Dude (4:15)
  13. Dreamtime (3:12)
  14. Please (3:05)

Released by: Vanguard
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 47:12

John Mayer – Room For Squares

John Mayer - Room For SquaresJohn Mayer’s Room For Squares ranks as one of my most fortunate musical finds; Mayer opened for former Toad The Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips on a recent acoustic tour, and shortly after Philadelphia radio station WXPN started rather heavy airplay of the album’s first single, “No Such Thing”. I eventually decided to buy the CD, and now I’m hooked. The guitar line and percussion do a great job carrying the basic melodies, whether they’re slower, somewhat dreamy tunes like “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and “City Love” or more energetic songs such as “Love Song For No One” and “No Such Thing”. Meyer then builds around those melodies with organs, pianos, violins and other instrumentation to create a sound that’s very light but still rich enough to engage the listener. He can use a few notes to perfectly capture a particular emotion, and let that emotion color the rest of the song. “3×5” is a song about a traveler whose experiences reconnect him to the world, and the simple fragment that connects the verses seems to sum up the gravity of such a moment.

Meyer’s lyrics may be even more accomplished than the music. He has a sense of humor about himself and the world that doesn’t prevent him from being emotionally honest and insightful; at his best, he combines the two sides. “83”‘s nostalgia is summed up in the closing “whatever happened to my lunchbox / when came the day that it got thrown away / and don’t you think I should have had some say / in that decision?” And I don’t think anyone could come up with a better follow-your-heart exhortation than “No Such Thing”, where he says, “I want to scream at the top of my lungs/I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world/Just a lie you’ve 4 out of 4got to rise above.” (Meyer delivers the phrase “at the top of my lungs” in a high-pitched call that somehow sounds good while still inspiring the tone-deaf among us to sing along in delight.) Direct and witty at the same time, Room For Squares is an outstanding example of intelligent songwriting, and I can only hope it finds the audience it deserves.

Order this CD

  1. No Such Thing (3:51)
  2. Why Georgia (4:28)
  3. My Stupid Mouth (3:45)
  4. Your Body Is A Wonderland (4:09)
  5. Neon (4:22)
  6. City Love (4:00)
  7. 83 (4:50)
  8. 3×5 (4:50)
  9. Love Song For No One (3:21)
  10. Back To You (4:01)
  11. Great Indoors (3:36)
  12. Not Myself (3:40)
  1. St. Patrick’s Day (5:21)

Released by: Columbia
Release date: 2001
Total running time: 54:21