Friday, October 28, 2011

Bruce Hornsby - "Greatest Radio Hits"

Bruce Hornsby is one of those artists that despite a number of excellent songs, a fair amount of success, a decent fan following, and a couple of great albums, is remembered by many for a single song: "The Way it is." His first hit, a comment of the social problems of America, set to a pop beat with incredible melody and Hornsby's distinct piano lines.

Hornsby and his great back up band The Range (I love that band name) released two hit albums 1986's "The Way it is" and 1988's "Scenes from the Southside" both of which are excellent and focused on slices of Americana. The music on both is highly melodic, highly pop oriented, and feature Hornsby's strong voice and excellent piano skills. The pattern basically continued with "A Night on the Town" though with a  more rock oriented touch. In 1993 Hornsby left the Range behind and continued as a solo artist. The rest of his albums took on a heavier Jazz Pop influence, which was not bad actually.

Like I said earlier Hornsby made a number of strong albums (his first four maybe five albums are essential for big fans) he is often best showcased on individual songs and this long overdue hits collection shows his excellence. Of the 15 tracks eight are with The Range and seven are solo works. Though they are not necessarily huge hits they are his best songs and all his chart singles. Included is the wonderful "Set Me In Motion" from the film "Backdraft" and two live renditions of Hornsby penned songs that were hits for others. An accordion led rendition of "Jacob's Ladder" (a huge hit for Huey Lewis and the News) and a spare almost unplugged version of "End of the Innocence" (a big hit for Don Henley).

There are some good liner notes and the songs show what a great musician and songwriter Hornsby is. A perfect single disc career retrospective and hits compilation for a too often over looked artist.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hootie & the Blowfish - "Hootie & the Blowfish"

This is the last Hootie & the Blowfish album that I have purchased thus far. Released in 2003 it had been five years between their last studio album ("Musical Chairs"). In between, however, they released a covers album "Scattered, Smothered and Covered" in 2000.

Their self titled fourth album follows the same format as their previous three. Catchy hooks, ringing guitars, pounding drums, and Darius Rucker's distinctive voice. The best cuts are "Innocence," "Space," "The Rain Song" and "Little Darlin'." There is also a pretty good unlisted song tacked onto the end of the last track. Only problem is you have to wait through several minutes of blank space to get there.

The songs on this album are much easier to get into than the ones of "Musical Chairs." Hootie & the Blowfish are a bar band made good and they embrace their bar band sound. The music is fun and catchy and plays well on long drives or when doing house work and especially in a bar. Basically if you enjoyed any of Hootie & the Blowfish's previous albums you will probably enjoy this.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hootie & the Blowfish - "Musical Chairs"

After Hootie & the Blowfish became the most popular band in America with their 1994 debut "Cracked Rear View" which sold 13 million copies and produced a slew of hit singles.

They released their 1996 sophomore album "Fairweather Johnson" which followed much the same formula as the debut but did not contain any instant hit songs like its predecessor. Despite going multi-platinum and topping the charts most people wrote the album off as a failure and Hootie & the Blowfish left the national spotlight.

This gave them the opportunity to do what they wanted to do, tour and perform for the fans. They retained a large and dedicated fan base who were more than happy to sell out concerts and buy whatever albums the band decided to release.

In 1998, without the pressure and massive media spotlight that glared on their second album, Hootie released their third album, "Musical Chairs." The seemingly winking title concerning the music scene's ever changing hands. While billed as a return to form by many critics this album actually follows the exact same format as their previous two efforts. Catchy bar band folk-pop-rock played with pounding drums, acoustic guitars, and good old southern charm. They occasionally add an orcestral section here but for the most part it is the four man band sound of their previous records. The songs, again, play heavily on lead singer Darius Rucker's powerful vocals. What sets this album slightly above "Fairweather Johnson" is that they find some great catchy singles like the excellent "Only Lonely" and "Michelle Post."

This is a very good listening in the car album and there are some great songs for Hootie fans. Not sure if every song is worth the price of the album so this maybe better as an iTunes purchase picking the best tracks and leaving the rest. Overall "Musical Chairs" is a solidification of their sounds. Hootie & the Blowfish know what they do well and know what their fans like; and they are going to keep on doing it as long as they want.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hootie & the Blowfish - "Cracked Rear View"

I received this album as a Christmas present one year and for a while I was really into Hootie & the Blowfish.  Not to say I no longer enjoy their music but I am just not so fanatic anymore.

"Cracked Rear View," their debut album, released in 1994 quickly became the most likely and unlikely megahit to be released in the 1990s, selling 12 million copies and catapulting the band to superstardom.

The four band members met at the University of South Carolina in 1989 and became a popular local college band performing covers of R.E.M. Eventually writing their own music, much of which appeared on this album.

The reason I call them the most unlikely superstars is that they were a completely unknown band aside from the college towns and their music was seemingly out of touch with the time; in the early 90s every thing was engulfed in the Grunge hard rock of Seattle.

On the other hand they were the right band at the right place at the right time. Kurt Cobain had killed himself shortly before this album was released. The overexposure of Grunge music had killed the market (much like the 80s Hair bands or the Boygroups of the 2000s). Also the depressing and dark content of much of the Grunge style was getting a little much for many listeners and they wanted a simple happy refresher from all this darkness. Not to mention Bill Clinton had been elected the year earlier and was turning out to be a really awesome President, especially compared to his two predecessors.

So here comes "Cracked Rear View" in the Summer of 1994 a simple straight ahead folk-rock roots pop album filled with damn catchy hooks and melodies with some heavy MTV video and radio rotation. The music is sharp and Darius Rucker's powerful vocals help the music to no end. The songs are certainly not innovative but Hootie knows exactly how to frame and execute them. The songs all basically follow a generic pattern but the chorus' are all memorable and sing-a-long. The good time vibes of many of the songs as well as the every man qualities of the more serious songs like "Let Her Cry," "Time," and "Drowning" provide a wonderful feel that American music listeners were looking for in 1994.

Like Huey Lewis & The News, Hootie & the Blowfish are a bar band that is not really interested in being the most important band since The Beatles. They want to have a good time, make some good music, and throw back a few cold ones at the end of the day. For a time all of America wanted to join them. Like I said earlier I was one of those, I still enjoy their music and there are some days when "Cracked rear View" is all I need to feel better (particularly when I'm driving).  Every now and then I Only Wanna Be with Hootie & the Blowfish.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jimi Hendrix - "Live at the Fillmore East"

This 1999 'official' release, by the Hendrix family, is a strong companion piece to my last post's "Band of Gypsys" album. Both were culled from the same four shows at the Fillmore. While the original "Band of Gypsys" album is six songs picked and edited by Hendrix himself, this album is 18 raw performances picked from the four nights. The nice thing about this release is also that which performance the song came from from is indicated in the track list.

Hendrix really tears into these songs and his guitar work is spectacular. Drummer Buddy Miles gets a bigger role on this release but his 'singing,' or wailing is probably a better term, is sometimes a little much. Thankfully, Hendrix never lets the center of focus leave him for very long.

This album gives a better view of the concerts even the off key "Stop" and the sometimes unevenness of the record add to this great view of Hendrix live in concert. For Hendrix collectors there is a great deal to gain from this album because even when songs from the "Band of Gypsys" are repeated here they are drastically different; such as "Who Knows" which is nearly instrumental here and the jamming "Power of Soul" (titled "Power to Love" on the "Gypsys" album). As are the two versions of the now classic "Machine Gun" that are presented here.

In the end if you only want one Hendrix live album (but really how could you want only one?) "Band of Gypsys" is the one to get. If you can find room for more than one, check "Live at the Fillmore East" I also enjoy "Live at Woodstock" but it feels long. I am interested in hearing the new recently released "Winterland" live tracks though. Anyway this is a good live recording with a great package and booklet. For now readers, I say until next time, happy listening.