Thursday, December 26, 2019

Belated Merry Christmas and Some Brief Christmas Album Reviews

Belated Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, etc. Survived another one. Hope you did too, my peeps.

Just to tell you briefly about those Christmas albums I mentioned:

The Trail Band - Christmas with the Trail Band Live in Concert
The Trail Band - Peace On Earth: A Christmas Collection

I gave them both 2.5 out of 5 stars for an Average rating. The Trail Band in another project of Marv and Rindy Ross of Quarterflash, and they keep pretty much to the Oregon area. They're both folk music (in the full band sense, not the guy or girl with a guitar sense), and each album has its moments. They're both inconsistent though. (And Denise hated it when they used a tuba.)

Celtic Woman - The Magic of Christmas
Annie Haslam - It Snows in Heaven Too

I rated them both 3.5 out for 5 stars for a Great rating. The Celtic Woman album is brand new, and while I don't like the current version of this group as much as the original, they do a nice job here. Likewise, as you'd expect, given Annie Haslam's exquisite voice, her LP is also a winner.

But the pick of this year's litter is:

Rick Wakeman - Christmas Portraits

I gave this one a 4 out 5 stars, for an Excellent rating. This is all instrumental piano music done by the master, and it's a definite plus to every Christmas Music lover's collection.

I actually have one more on order, coming in late, that I'll enjoy next season, which is the remastered version of Blackmore's Night - Winter Carols. I gave a 3.5 out of 5 rating to the original, and in retrospect, I probably should have given it a 4. The new version has three extra tracks, and I think some alternate versions, and it's a two-disc CD. I'm not going to bother to review it, since I already did a full write-up of the original (which you can find on this blog in mid-December of 2016).

Anyway, I hope to back later this week with my Top 10 Albums of 2019 list.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Top 10 Local Albums of 2019

Well, I've got a lot more lists to get to this year, thanks to it being the end of the decade. I'm still working on the Best Albums of 2019 and Best Songs of 2019 lists -- I've got about eight more LPs I want to work my through before my final decisions. And as for the Best of the Decades lists, while I think that I'm probably finished with them, I don't want to post them yet, because they'll spoil the 2019 lists -- after all, if you see a 2019 album or song on my Best of the Decade list, you can pretty much be sure that it will be at the top of the 2019 list as well.

So let's start with my Top 10 Local Albums of 2019 list, as none of the remaining LPs I've scheduled myself to listen to are from New York-based bands.

Once again, here are the rules: To be eligible, it has to be a full-length album of at least seven songs (unless there are one or more epic-length songs). No EPs allowed. It also has to be all by one artist -- no compilations. And as now become my norm, although I still prefer CDs, I have once again allowed digital-only albums to be considered. 

As for the definition of the word "local", as always, I try to keep it very loose. For the purposes of picking a Top 10 Local Albums list, here's what I consider "local": 1. Long Island, for sure; 2. The five boroughs of NYC (especially Brooklyn, where a lot of Long Island bands have run off to); 3. Sometimes Jersey or a little ways upstate, if the mood takes me. (As I've said in the past, I'm not giving away money or anything, so I kind of get to make up the rules as I go along). Also, if a band or artist spent a decent amount of time living on and playing on Long Island or in the City in the past, they get to qualify, even if they've moved to another area of the country.

One regret I have is that this year, although we have had some quality releases by local Long Island artists, this year's list is made up pretty much entirely of New York-based artists who have a national following. I'd love to have a list that is purely made up of artists from the local Long Island scene, but the truth is I'm no longer enough of a part of that scene to make up a full list out of it. But I do want to give a nod of respect to artists like Robin Eve, Linda Sussman, Mark Newman and Matt Marshak, all of whom put out some creditable albums this year. 

As I did last year, I'll be including a link to my favorite track from each album. And at the end of the list, I'll give you a link to YouTube playlist that has them all. Anyway, here, in reverse order, are my Top 10 Local Artists of 2019:

Top 10 Local Albums of 2019

10. Dream Theater - Distance Over Time

I've always been a little up and down on this progressive metal band. They have a storied career and are well respected (and they're even members of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame), but their style isn't really the prog rock of old that I love. Nevertheless, Distance Over Time was a pleasant surprise, and a nice recovery from 2016's ambitious but overbloated 2016 double LP The Astonishing. So kudos to these guys for a nice comeback. Dream Theater - Untethered Angel

9. Xeno & Oaklander - Hypnos

Sputnik Music describes Xeno & Oaklander as "a minimal electronics girl/boy duo based in Brooklyn, NY." They remind me of early Eurythmics. The music is ice cold, but oh so good. Xeno & Oaklander - Fire and Smoke

8. Laura Stevenson - The Big Freeze

Laura Stevenson is a Rockville Centre gal, although her voice and her music sound southern to me. She's been heavily involved over the years with Jeff Rosenstock's Bomb the Music Industry! project. In spite of the album title, a lot of the music on here is more like the aural equivalent to warm, glowing embers. Laura Stevenson - Low Slow

7. Melanie Martinez - K-12

This is another concept album from the controversial Long Island pop artist Melanie Martinez. In this one, we take a musical journey as we follow her Cry Baby character from kindergarten through senior year of high school, as she encounters mean girls, abusive boys, evil teachers and a whole lot of sex. I love the ambition of this project, and there's some really good material on here. Melanie Martinez - Wheels on the Bus

6. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride

While this LP is perhaps a little overlong (there are 18 tracks here), I thought it was a step back up after 2013's Modern Vampires of the City for this New York-based indie rock band. It's nice to have these guys back. Vampire Weekend - Harmony Hall

5. Lisel - Angels on the Slope

Lisel is the pseudonym for Eliza Bagg, from the New York indie pop band Pavo Pavo. This is her first solo album, and it's a very beautiful one. The music is here is delicate and ethereal, and very joyful. I'm hoping she continues to create solo music, because I really connected with this one. Lisel - Digital Light Field

4. Barrie - Happy to Be Here

This is another dreamy kind of LP. It's the debut album of a female-fronted pop rock band from Brooklyn. The vibes are mellow, the music is gentle, and the LP is a definite winner. Barrie - Clover

3. Ingrid Michaelson - Stranger Songs

New York songstress Ingrid Michaelson has been an amazingly consistent artist over the years. On this, her seventh studio album, she draws inspiration from the Netflix Sci-Fi show Stranger Things. (Which was kind of weird for me -- I had just binge watched Season 2 before I first listened to the LP, and I was like, "Hey! I recognize that dialogue!") As always, her voice is lovely here, and her pop instincts are right on. Ingrid Michaelson - Hate You

2. Bayside - Interrobang

Well, in a list that is dominated by the ladies, Bayside breaks through again. What can I say, I love these guys, and Interrobang is up there with their best work. This pop punk band has been around for close to two decades now, and they show no sounds of slowing down. And Anthony Raneri is still one of the best vocalists and best lyricists out there. Bayside - Interrobang

1. Charly Bliss - Young Enough

This Brooklyn-based power pop band are clearly hitting their stride. Young Enough contains 11 tracks worth of very consistent, extremely well-crafted pop rock. I caught them this summer at Radio City Musical Hall (opening for Chvrches), and their energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Eva Hendricks' voice is a little unusual, but it really works with the material. I'm excited to see where this band goes from here -- I'm really rooting for them. Charly Bliss - Hard to Believe

So that's my list. If you'd like to listen to the whole thing as a playlist, you'll find it (from # 10 to #1, even though YouTube has it labeled oppositely) at Top 10 Local Albums of 2019.

I probably won't post against until next week, so I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, etc. And hopefully, I'll be back to continue my year end Best Of lists very soon.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Missed Show and new holiday music

SO you remember last week when I was promising you a write-up of a show I'd be attending over the weekend? Yeah, I lied. Well, not intentionally. I meant it when I wrote it. But life happened, and Denise and were both sick this past weekend. (Actually, the whole damned house has been sick. Suffolk County would be wise to just burn our house down, like a medieval black plague castle, to keep us from infecting the whole community.)

Anyway, we had tickets to see Mannheim Steamroller at the Tilles Center this past Saturday, and I was looking forward to the show and hoping it would get me in more of a Christmas state of mind. I was especially excited, because last time we saw them two or three years ago, we did so at some crappy Atlantic City arena that sold us obstructed view seats without telling us, so we really couldn't see any of the video footage that the show made extensive use of. Tilles Center is a great place to attend a show, and I was happy I'd be able to actually see it this time.

But when Denise came home a day or too beforehand feeling terrible, and I started developing a hacking cough, I had a bad feeling that we weren't going to make it. I was right. Denise was still hoping to try -- the tickets were a birthday present I'd bought her, and she was really looking forward to the concert. But when she went to the doctor early on Saturday, she was basically told "No way, Jose!" They diagnosed her with a 101.4 degree fever and a sever bronchial infection.

As for me, I didn't actually feel that terrible. (Then. By the next day, I felt like my body had been turned inside out, and for the next 48 hours, I couldn't even keep my eyes open for more than 90 minutes at a time.) But I knew that the rest of the audience in my section wouldn't thank me for coughing non-stop through the whole concert, and probably infecting the hell out of the lot of them. It wasn't really any sense of social responsibility on my part, so much as it was not wanting to deal with the angry and disapproving reactions to my Typhoid-Mary-like presence. (I'd like to pretend I'm more noble than that, but what the hell. You guys already know better.)

Anyway, I was at least able to find the tickets a good home -- I pdf'd them to a couple of friends who I work with, and they took one of their sons who happens to be a huge Mannheim Steamroller fan. They enjoyed the show immensely (especially their son), the audience didn't have to catch our smallpox, and Denise and I got to rest for the night, which probably helped us to at least not get any sicker. So it all worked out. I hope to maybe catch Mannheim Steamroller next holiday season.

In the interim, as I do almost every year, I've at least picked up some new albums of holiday music to help lift me into the spirit of the season. They include the new Christmas CD from Celtic Woman; an older holiday album from Annie Haslam that I didn't previously have; a pair of Christmas albums from The Trail Band, which is a separate folk-project by Marv and Rindy Ross of Quarterflash; and a brand new piano-based album of instrumental holiday songs by none other than Rick Wakeman. So I'll hopefully get a chance to briefly tell you about each of them before the Christmas holidays hit.

Anyway, sorry I can't tell you about the Mannheim Steamroller show. Hopefully next year.

Until my next post, stay healthy, and keep your loved ones close.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

November 2019 Song of the Day

There were some pretty decent songs this month, although I thought there was also a lapse in quality about halfway through.

This was the first month in a while that I wasn't either host or co-host. However, the user who took over did a great job. And while there was less participation in terms of how many users took part in rating the songs, it's the first time since I've been a part of this that the song recs for the month came from thirty different users. So that was pretty good. The theme for the month was GIFTS. Each user was asked to rec a song that they liked that they first learned about because it was rec'd to them by another Sputnik Music user.

Anyway, here's this month's chart.

Artist/song/link/overall rating given by Sput users (out of 5)/my rating (X=I rec'd it)

1. Fazerdaze/Little Uneasy/
2. mewithoutYou/Rainbow Signs/
3. Emma Ruth Rundle/Protection/
4. Macaroom/Toombi/
5. Thomas Feiner and Anywhen/Dinah and the Beautiful Blue/
6. Brainiac/You Wrecked My Hair/
7. Erang/Innocent Blood, Barbarian Blade/
8. The Gloaming/Athas/
9. Starbend/Einsamkeit/
10. Psychedelic Porn Crumpets/Bill's Mandolin/
11. Fields of Mildew/Embers/
12. Robbie Basho/Rocky Mountain Raga/
13. Memoryhouse/Sarah/
14. Fire! Orchestra/(I Am A) Horizon/
15. David Kauffman and Eric Caboor/Kiss Another Day Goodbye/
16. The Ruins of Beverast/Rain Upon the Impure/
17. Kairon IRSE!/Tzar Morei/
18. Elder/Lore/
19. John Moreland/Blacklist/
20. Split End/Deep Love/
21. Debris/One Way Spit/
22. John Prine/When I Get to Heaven/
23. Wilderun/Far From Where Dreams Unfurl/
24. Cubfires/Ruby Sparks/
25. The Mortal/Sayonara Waltz/
26. The Afghan Whigs/Bulletproof/
27. A Guy Called Gerald/The First Breath/
28. Paddy Hanna/Toulouse the Kisser/
29. Quo Vadis/On the Shores of Ithaka/
30. Midnight Oil/Beds Are Burning/

My pick for the month was The Gloaming's "Athas". Nobody really loved it, and nobody really hated it. It came in at an average of 2.96.

On the other hand, the last song of the month, Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning" did quite well at a n average of 3.64. The song was rec's by a user called Sharkattack, but he credited me as the user who originally "gifted" it to him. (And unsurprisingly, this was my highest rated song of the month, at 4.4)

The highest rated song overall was Emma Ruth Rundle's "Protection", which scored 3.79 overall. My highest rated song that was new to me was the first song of the month, Fazerdaze's "Little Uneasy".

The lowest rated song of the month was Cubfires' "Ruby Sparks". Was Fire! Orchestra's "(I Am A) Horizon". It was one of those jazzy/experimental-type tracks that just sounded off key to me.

The theme for December is "The song that first made you fall in love with a genre", so that should be fun.

I've got a concert review to write for you after this coming weekend (which will hopefully set off less of a firestorm than my last show review, heh heh. But we'll see.) This should be my last concert of 2019.

And after that, it will be time to start posting my Best of the Year and Best of the Decade lists.