This is an interesting album. Overall, it feels like the kind of music your uncle/old friend of the family would play when, as a kid, you’d stay up late at relaxed parties your parents would have, insisting that you weren’t sleepy as you drifted off. It’s the kind of music that wouldn’t be out of place on classic rock radio, or maybe even adult contemporary; it’s reminiscent of Neil Young at his folksiest, raspy-voiced and mostly mellow.
There is some quality songwriting present here, especially on the standout “Hole in Romeo,” a Dire Straits-ish story of lover’s regret. But then, just when you think you have this guy pegged down, he throws you for a loop and follows up this quality style with what seems to be a show tune/TV theme-inspired song. That, or something definitely Raffi-esque, like “Gasoline Shoes,” with its silly imagery and extra-rhyming lyrics. Not that sounding like Raffi is necessarily a bad thing; the man’s Christmas album is still featured prominently on the playlist at my house during the holiday season. However, in the context of Gibbons’ album, the contrasts between songs can be a bit jarring.
There is some great stuff here, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to listen to an album all the way through, the contrasts may pose a problem.
by Virginia Harper
Sept. 13, 1996, is a date that will live in infamy for music fans everywhere. It was on this day that Tupac Shakur died, well before his time. In his short life, Tupac became an icon for the streets, for the youth of the ghettos and the rich kids of the suburbs. Vast and diverse are two words that come to mind when describing the fan base that Tupac acquired, both before his death and posthumously. Tupac: Live at the House of Blues is the perfect album for any fan of the late rapper, be they casual listeners or hardcore fans. Taking place only two months before his death, this concert contains some of Tupac’s biggest hits, although the majority of the album is actually Tha Dogg Pound (Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Daz and Nate Dogg). This is a true collection of the talent that fell under the Death Row Records empire at that time.
On tracks like “Ambitionz as a Ridah” and “Hit ’Em Up,” Tupac’s charismatic delivery has never been more evident. As good as these songs were in a studio recorded format, they take on a whole different feeling when performed live. Tupac’s energy pours forth through the speakers in a way that brings listeners themselves to the concert.
Easily the best song on the album, “2 of Americaz Most Wanted” is a fitting finale to the concert. It brings together the entire collection of Death Row performers on a song originally performed by Tupac and Snoop Dogg. As fans of either rapper can argue, this is one of the songs that really jumpstarted both of their careers. As this is the last time that these two were able to perform together, this album is a must have for any rap fan.
by Jordan Reid
Imagine if you will that Crossroads-era Britney Spears is competing in a community talent show in some mid-sized town. Right before she comes on, Dan Politano performs. And performs is exactly the correct word to use, because this guy does not have talent; he is “acting as though” he does. But wait – the crowd loves it! Why? Because this is the same crowd that will also go on to love the pseudo-empowering strains of whichever sad cover of a Joan Jett song Britney decides to do this time. In all probability, Dan and Britney go on to co-win the talent show and “perform” some type of drivel-ish duet, proving to us all that true talent can lift the underdog out of the shadows of obscurity, blah blah blah. (See Flashdance, Coyote Ugly, et cetera.)
What I’m trying to explain here, albeit in an unnecessarily roundabout way, is that this album may be radio-friendly, but is also very bad. The sentiment and the music itself is sub-par at best, but what really gets me are the lyrics. For example, in “Another Year,” Dan insists that “as I’m looking at you/I’m staring with my eyes closed/as they try to open/both eyes start to become blinded.” WTF, Dan? At least there are only five tracks here, but “only” doesn’t seem to truly explain the feeling of sitting, teeth grating, and waiting for it to be over.
by Virginia Harper
Is there anything that’s really bad about Christmas? At first instinct, you want to say no. But then, it hits you – walking through the endless shopping malls, one constant rings through your ears – that horrid sound of Christmas music. If there’s one thing record companies know how to do, it’s ruin Christmas.
Enter Warcon Records and the latest off-shoot of the very successful Taste of Chaos tour: Taste of Christmas. Don’t worry, it’s not simply a collection of punk bands barely pulling off lame Christmas carols; in fact, it’s a lot better than you might think. With bands like The Used, Gatsby’s American Dream, Funeral for a Friend and many more, Amy Grant’s “White Christmas” it ain’t. (Thank Christ.)
While some seasonal standbys prevail, like My American Heart’s poppy version of “The First Noel” and Amped’s “We Three Kings,” most of the record is made up of original songs. The songs are refreshing and fun, like Emery’s “The Last Christmas,” or The Black Halo’s “Homeless for Christmas,” while some just shouldn’t have ever made the cut. (Does anyone even like Opiate for the Masses?)
All in all though, this collection works, especially with standalone tracks like The Street Drum Corps featuring The Used’s Bert McCraken on vocals, and their amazingly original rendition of “Happy Christmas (War is Over).” It may not replace my personal seasonal favourite of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, but Taste of Christmas pushes you happily into the holiday spirit – hell, you might even get your mom to floor punch around the tree.
by Cassie Ozog
This is a really good rock n’ roll album. Not in a balls-out “rock star” kind of way, but in a generally folksy, solid, awesome kind of way.
You have probably seen the video for the single “Soft One” on MuchMusic (it’s the best video out there right now that includes a suit of armour following someone up the stairs) and if you’re like me, you got hooked on its catchiness the first time around but questioned the likelihood of the rest of the album being good. Well – now you know – it’s good. There are some other up-tempo numbers, but also some quality slow-dance-worthy ones. Matthew’s sister Jill lends background vocals on a couple of them, and it’s easy to see that talent runs in the family. “Bad Side Hide” even introduces a touch of “Mambo Number Nine” style ska/swing for good measure, but it doesn’t feel too out of place because of its confident execution. The music, courtesy of Barber’s touring band the Union Dues, really fills out the background of the quality lyrics, and everything just flows so well.
With a sound reminiscent of Ben Folds Five, Jack Johnson, and Ryan Adams, Barber has a voice up there with some of the smoothest. On a side note, one of my friends, upon hearing “Soft One,” became convinced that it was really just “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in disguise. Interesting.
by Virginia Harper