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Posts Tagged ‘soft rock’

Tarnation – Gentle Creatures

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment

4AD Records, 1995

I have to admit that I enjoy reviewing bands that I’ve actually heard of and will find relatively easy to write about.  It also helps that I wrote about Tarnation’s second album earlier, so I knew exactly what I was going to pick up.  However, it turns out this is the first record they released, so as great as their second album sounded the first could go in many directions.  It could be less polished and clunky or perhaps heavier on the rock ‘n roll.  You know, sometimes bands are still finding themselves and Paula Frazer does come from a punk background.  But hey, for a dollar I was just hoping for some of that fine Americana music to relax to whatever bumpiness may occur.

Amidst a decade knee deep in grunge and grunge knockoffs, Tarnation takes a calmer tack with its warm Americana and folk songs.  There is nothing on this record that will make your heart race, unless of course you’re swept up in the lyrics.  I found that the casual pace of the record actually serves as a relaxation pill to help get one’s feet kicked up.  It certainly helps that the band utilizes the lap steel guitar and a cello once in awhile, though anyone know what an optigan is?  I had to look it up to determine that it is an electronic keyboard that had a short run in the early seventies.  I guess it also assisted in these country feelings.

Now, as much as I like the sound of Tarnation and Frazer’s voice, I could completely understand if someone is turned off early on in the record.  This could be due to either the back-to-back six minutes songs of “The Well” and “Big O Motel” or easily the quiet, plodding pace of the band.  Not much changes during these songs, so if one does not enjoy the light strumming and slide guitar on “The Well” then the tune will be cumbersome.  The same goes for “Big O Motel”, which is ever lighter and more repetitive.  The rest of the album sticks to three minutes or so for the most part, so why these epics were fastened early on in the listening process is a little puzzling.

Lengthy songs aside, Tarnation is quite good in the shorter instances.  The opener “Game of Broken Hearts” sounds like a solo demo by Frazer, but it easily sets the tone (and example) for the rest of the record with its easy guitar and Frazer’s stirring vocals.  The title track’s brevity is a pity, for as the lone instrumental on the record it gives off the air of a track from an unknown western movie.  “Do You Fancy Me” is as slow as anything else, but something about using the word ‘fancy’ as well as Frazer taking the cloud-shooting voice down a bit makes the song a real nice, countrified listen.

Unlike the second album, where it was Frazer all the time, “Gentle Creatures” gives time to the other band members to sing lead vocals.  Matt Wendell Sullivan’s deeper voice sounds excellent on “Listen to the Wind” with Frazer echoing in the background.  As for the other band members, Lincoln Allen has a fine weathered voice on the traditionally country “Stranger in the Mirror” while Michelle Cernuto sings in echo on a Magnetic Fields-like “Burn Again”.  Though Frazer has the most captivating voice, the rest of the band succeed in carrying a few good tunes when given the chance to sing.

There still isn’t a lot on the web about Tarnation, but Paula Frazer’s MySpace page, the band’s Last.fm page, and a video from their second album may convince you to go check them out.

The group put out “Mirador” a few years later before taking a ten year hiatus, which essentially gave Paula Frazer time for her solo career.  The band did put out an album in recent years, so it remains to be seen whether or not Tarnation is back for real. I suppose I’m a fan of the group now with two straight, enjoyable records.  Some people may not warm to Frazer’s voice or the quiet country sound of the songs, so if a few tracks don’t turn you on then you likely won’t agree with my spin on the two albums.  For me, I suppose that if I need to hear something soothing with a vocalist that doesn’t grate on me I would choose something from Tarnation.

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Jackson Browne – The Pretender

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Elektra Records, 1976

Ever since I saw Jackson Browne open for Tom Petty I’ve been intrigued with what he might sound like on record.  If you’ve been an avid reader (skimmer … passerby … garbage tosser?) of my blog here you probably have caught on that I mostly spin rock, punk, and more rock.  However, I have always found Browne’s voice to be considerably relaxed and relaxing.  Obviously, given my penchant for spending nearly zilch, I just haven’t gotten around to buying any of his stuff.  Lucky for me this record was only a quarter!  Definitely worth checking out even if “Doctor My Eyes” and “Running On empty” aren’t on this one.  By the way, if all my reviews start getting softer and seventies-based from here on out, you’ll know Browne got to me.

“The Pretender” came out during the height of Browne’s early career, which many of you likely weren’t around for. Think Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and the folk rock side of Neil Young. Given that, one might expect that every song on “The Pretender” would have a cooling sensation, but Browne doesn’t hesitate to turn up the volume a small notch early on. On “The Fuse” you have Browne working his introspective magic in lyrics that describe his wish to make the most of his time on this earth. It carries on as a typical even-tempered Browne tune but then builds rather powerfully at the end. Quite a start! Then, of course, Browne settles down and sings a few softies like “Your Bright Baby Blues” and “Linda Paloma”. Well, it had to be expected.

“Here Comes Those Tears Again” is an excellent title for a tune that defies the prediction that it would be an absolute momentum drag. It actually is an upbeat track about that old back-and-forth relationship break up story, but Browne comes off as a bit casual about it. I suppose there’s only so many times one can be morose and try to carry it for more than three minutes, so Browne opts for a little pep. “Daddy’s Tune” has an air of optimism, yet I feel it was stuck on the album to break up an otherwise low key affair. Sure, it has got horns and spirited guitar play, but it sticks out as one of the few songs that dates this record in my mind. Thankfully “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” and the classic title track end the record wonderfully. And yeah, when I say “wonderfully” I mean low-key Jackson Browne vocals all over the place. Oh so nice.

Jackson Browne can be found aplenty at dusty vinyl record stores and flea markets everywhere, but I suppose if you want to go digital you could check out a large collection of his videos on this fan’s MySpace page.  His website is also not too bad either.

Jackson Browne is, of course, still putting out records with a stunningly similar voice that rivals his seventies sound.  As for “The Pretender”, I still can’t believe I got it for only a quarter.  Whether I continue with my dabbling of softer music during a time that I was not even born is up for debate, but I can certainly see why people were big into Jackson Browne at the time.  Ah well, I suppose I should get back to bands like Trapped By Mormons now, eh? Here comes those punk rock tunes again…

Rick Astley – Free

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

RCA Records, 1991

Four years after releasing the song that, you know, gets stuck in your head whenever you stumble upon it, Rick Astley put out a record that mades him look truly smooth. No longer could he just use his voice to woo over countless women (and closet soft rock dudes), Astley knew that the hair had to change and he needed to lock us into his tempting eyes.  The hand gesture clearly means he’s calling us to say ‘hello, it’s Rick again’ and oh dayum, here comes the heart melting once more.  This is the melodramatic storyline that I came up with in my head when I found this early 90’s release tragically ignored amidst other 90’s castoffs.  I felt I ran into an old, oddly dressed friend that recently had a makeover, so I opted to see what my man Astley was all about in those days.  Plus, it’s not like I could resist those eyes.

So what exactly did I expect when I casually inserted this into my cd player while sipping a martini in a dimly lit room?  I expected at least a little pep, or even a tune that might have shown a bit of a pulse.  But what I got, and perhaps what I deserved, was a looooot of sleepy soft pop music that tried a little too hard to make me cry.  The first sign was the jaw dropping opening song of “In the Name of Love” which just reeked of heavy-handed mushiness.  I even got a double-dose of the soft stuff, for Astley was definitely channeling Michael MacDonald when he was singing.  Just awful, awful.  Then the big hit from the time “Cry For Help” puffed out and I was starting to wobble on sanity, because I realized that Astley was asking questions that I was not prepared for.  For instance, “Why can’t we ever break down and cry?” is a perfectly plausible inquiry to have, but there’s no real answer to that and I’m used to giving answers.  Is it because we are too embarrassed with the public display of emotion, or is it because people are too British over there, or is it because I’ve built up a wall around me and am not letting anyone in?  Oh Astley, you’ve got me in a corner, man!  I had to escape to the next song for balance …

Garrrgh!  It’s a self-confidence inducer entitled “Move Right Out” that made me gag.  Quick, to the ‘rocking’ “Be With You” and its crisp horns that disappear immediately once Astley starts crooning, only to return during a half-hearted upbeat chorus.  As I crawl to the next track of “Really Got a Problem” I encounter a doo-wopping Rick Astley and OH IT’S JUST TOO MUCH!  I … I turn off the cd player and take off the sunglasses I’ve been wearing.  (sob)

Rick Astley, do your pasty magic:

This record is primarily a Bust because I wanted to hear that big, dance single.  I didn’t hear it, so I was let down by a Rick Astley record.  It was clear that Astley had chosen to spend his time crafting the slower, sensual songs for soft rock radio and skip the obvious success that the goofy love songs brought him.  Big mistake, Astley.  He decided to give up the music business for nearly a decade not long after this record was released, only to make a return early on in the next decade because some small pocket of people demanded more Astley sappiness.  Does anyone truly care about that, though?  Nah.  One is likely more interested in his brief, unfortunate foray into the hip hop music scene in Birmingham.  MC Astley indeed.

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