GroupLove

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I was going to review another band however it was similar to the last review so I thought I’d go with something a bit different. That postponed review will be up next time. This time a five piece band GroupLove from Los Angeles, USA whose members came from the corners of the globe. Well, two came from New York (Christian and Hannah), one from London (Sean) and two from Los Angeles (Andrew and Ryan) and they all met in Greece. So close enough. They released their five track self titled EP in November 2010 which is the subject of this review. I should mention that they have a full length album Never Trust a Happy Song which is to be released this September. Two of the songs, Colours and Naked Kids, from GroupLove EP will be re-released on that album.

The first thing that one notices about this GroupLove EP is its energy. Even if the rock genre is not your style, you can’t help but admit that these songs are delivered with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, right from Colours, the opening track, till Don’t Say Oh Well, the closing track. This energy comes with a warning, it is infectious, so buyer beware. There should be a sticker on the CD cover. Another aspect of theses songs is the mixture of tempo on just about all of the songs which is a refreshing listening experience. No need to listen to the same tempo for the duration of the song and the album, which happens on so many current bands albums. In the long term this sameness certainly taxes the concentration. So that is another plus for the album.

The opening song Colours is the one that brought GroupLove to my attention and it is a great opening track. There is some very interesting repetition in this song that is very different to the usual practise of running out of lyrics and repeating the chorus or a single line ad nauseam to fill the three to four minutes required duration. Have a listen and see what you think. As mentioned previously there is good tempo variation, starting from the the simple instrument introduction of Colours to the sudden full band coming in, to the female backing vocals in some of the quieter passages. It works and it works well. Also there is some good playing of the guitars and in particular the drums. They “call it life”, such is listening to this track, so “do it for sweet life” and enjoy it. The second track Naked Kids is good rollicking fun and sounds like the Beach Boys rocked out on steroids. The intro builds from the use of clapping and an acoustic guitar into the full band. An interesting and catchy intro that does exactly what is required of it, grab your attention which the rest of the song does for 3 minutes and 28 seconds. Love Hannah’s great timing of “oh” in this song. Listen for it, it is worth it. This attention to detail is rewarding! Of course there is a repeat of all this on the their forth coming album.

Gold Coast, the third track isn’t unfortunately about our Gold Coast in Queensland, but it doesn’t matter. This song is a bit slower in tempo than the first two tracks but has an impressive heavy drum that grabs your attention. Another aspect of this EP there is something different in all these songs. However at the end of the track there is a sudden change in the effect as things become muddier with the upper registers being suppressed. Not sure it that is intentional or a recording artefact, though it does continue on the next track Getaway Car. Another good track with a infectious melody (as is the case with the other songs). Again this song has another interesting instrument that is hard to pick and is probably electronically created, however it sounds like the old washboard in folk bands. The last track is Don’t Say Oh Well that again has a catchy melody, the tempo variations, the energy and some tongue-in-cheek fun. Christian sings that his band mates are his soul mates to which the others reply “thank you”! Cute but memorable.

So it is time to go out and have a listen to the GroupLove EP, you wont be disappointed. There is good variety here, lots of fun, catchy melodies and some good timing along with some influences like the Beach Boys and the Pixies I’d say. So if any or some of this hits a resonance with you get a copy of the EP and wait patiently for the debut album in about two months time.

Sonics: 3.9/5  Music: 4.5/5

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Cyndi Lauper

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Well the chaps at Leading Edge Music, Sale, Victoria told me that Memphis Blues was Cyndi’s best album ever! She has certainly changed musically from the time she burst onto the music scene here in Australia in 1984 with the number one hit single Girls Just Want To Have Fun. She followed that up with a further six top 10 hits here, but she was, and still is, the eccentric character that she was 27 years ago. In fact, from the photos on the album Memphis Blues she doesn’t looked like she has aged at all, but she does say that her make-up artists have done wonders. Be that as it may, you must give this album a listen. It is superb.

Being a blues album she had to have the appropriate people on board and she has, people like B B King, Charlie Musselwhite and Jonny Lang to drop a few names. As well she covers a Muddy Waters song Rollin’ and Tumblin’ for good measure. However great those people play, and they play superbly let me assure you, it is the voice of Ms Lauper that steals the show along with her playful almost child like approach to some of the songs. There are at least three songs that I counted quickly that had some of her laughter at the end before it was faded out and her playfulness in the third track Early in the Mornin’ is just delightful. She had fun doing this album. Listening to this album with the AKG headphones on allowed me to be engulfed by this fun and her persona.

Many great albums often have a song or two, that though good just don’t seem to be in the same league as the others on the album. Fortunately this album isn’t one of them, as all the songs are just great. Also Cyndi is comfortable in not having to sing through the entirety of each song to allow some of the fine musicianship to shine through too. (An action that many a new band would do well to consider and not feel obliged to keep repeating a word or phrase to fill in until the end of the song.) Consequently there are many fine instrumental breaks in these songs. We find this in the opening song Just Your Fool where the lyrics are sparse, with the instrumental breaks highlighting her voice, along with the lyrics emphasising the fun aspect with lines like

“…Jackie Chan he gonna come for you”.

This up tempo track has some great piano and harmonica blended in with some impressive percussion, which really sets the scene for the rest of the album. The harmonica is played by Charlie Musselwhite, who appears again with that instrument on Down Don’t Bother Me and in both cases his playing is impressive.

On a blues album you expect most, if not all songs, to deal with love in some form or another and that is the case with ten of the eleven songs on offer. Also there is good variety with the tempos of the songs which is always pleasing to see and this entices the interest. Many of the slower tempo songs are the sadder love songs of the album like Shattered Dreams, How Blue Can You Get?, Down So Low and Crossroads which are all delivered with a great deal of emotion and panache. It seems that these four songs allow her to manipulate your heart strings by her singing/voice alone. In How Blue Can You Get? Cyndi sings

“…gave you a brand new Ford, you just want a Cadillac,

…I let you live in my penthouse, you said it was a shack,

I gave you seven children now you wanna give ‘em back…”

and by the end of the song you do commiserate with her. However in Down So Low now she is doing the crawling and by the end of that song I’d take her back! She has picked the songs to suit her voice, though I think she has done a good deal of rehearsal too, because in some songs I’d swear that she is a black American. In the opening lines of Early in the Mornin’ she says in her best black American tone “Hey Pedro where we going?”. I swear she wasn’t a white woman. Also in this song she duets with B B King and the contrast in the voices and styles really adds a nuance that is difficult to put in words. Listen to it, you’ll know what I mean.

Of course not all the songs are sad. Romance in the Dark shows a very different mood to the songs just mentioned and Cyndi’s voice manipulates that mood accordingly. There is no doubt about it, her voice has become better with age. She hits those notes with great aplomb/emotion while at the same time seducing you. The organ playing by Lester Snell is just the icing on the cake in this track. This song must be listened to in the dark and with the volume up! When it’s finished tell me that you weren’t affected. Despite its name Don’t Cry No More is an up tempo love song that is positive about love. It is very catchy with some great saxophone. While the only song not about love in some form, Mother Earth, deals with a common Blues theme of the tall poppy being brought down. It doesn’t matter how big in business or politics you are, or how much money you have in the end

“… when it all comes up, you got to go back to Mother Earth.”

Again she delivers it with conviction as well as a smattering of cheekiness, and the piano introduction by Allan Toussaint is equally talented. In fact much of the piano played by Allan and Lester Snell is particularly impressive on this album as is the guitar playing by Jonny Lang. As regards the latter check out the songs Crossroads and How Blue Can You Get?. Also check out B B King’s guitar work on Early in the Mornin’. None of these people are becoming worse with age. I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil your exploring the album for yourself. Also if you are looking to preview some new Hifi gear then you couldn’t do better than to take this album along to test out the gear, Memphis Blues has it all.

Will Cyndi climb to the dizzy heights of her albums of the 1980s again? Probably not, which is a pity, though Memphis Blues did debut at #1 on Billboard’s Blues Album Chart and #26 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart which is most impressive, but it deserves to do much better than that! It is adeptly recorded and mastered, it is sung with gusto and played impeccably. What more could you want? The chaps at Leading Edge Music, Sale told me that Memphis Blues was Cyndi’s best album ever. A tall order, but I think their assessment is correct.

Sonics: 4.4/5  Music: 4.7/5

Mike Oldfield

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Music of the Spheres cover

Mike Oldfield has come along way since Tubular Bells in 1973, where he not only launched his own career but also that of Richard Branson and Virgin Records. This new offering, Music of the Spheres from nearly two years ago immediately brought to my mind Holst’s Planets. Quite possibly that was Mike Oldfield’s secondary intent too. Perhaps it was to update that nearly one hundred year old recording for the rock/pop generations, if so, then he has succeeded admirably. Though his primary purpose was to interpret the old theory that every celestial body has an inner music, even though inaudible, and his Music of the Spheres is making it audible. Giving it breath. These 14 tracks will delight your musical senses.

Mike Oldfield’s contribution on the recording, other than producing and writing it all, was the classical guitar. It is magically woven in with the orchestra on many tracks, in particular on Harbinger (and its reprise), Shabda, Harmonia Mundi and Musica Universalis. The orchestra by the way is the Sinfonia Sfera Orchestra. Also they don’t figure on all tracks and there are some stripped down tracks, like Silhouette, which is mainly Oldfield’s classical guitar together with Lang Lang on piano. There is good variety of tempo too over the tracks. From the slower Harmonia Mundi with its impressive classical guitar, to the up tempo Aurora, which has a great violin section along with a choir being used as an instrument building to a very complex piece with a huge dynamic range. A pleasure for your senses! This use of the choir is again used on Prophecy, Aurora and Harmonia Mundi with great effect.

While essentially an instrumental album there are some vocal pieces over and above the use of the choir as mentioned above. There are two tracks, On My Heart and its reprise, on which Hayley Westenra provides her lovely vocals. These tracks provide a refreshing break from the instrumental assault of the rest of the album and Hayley’s voice is a delight to listen too and a great reference track for female vocals. Also on that track is the talent of Oldfield on the classical guitar. Certainly a favourite song for me on the album. One could go on about many of the tracks on this album, but the best test is to listen to it either by loudspeakers or headphones. The beauty of the latter is it gives a more personal performance. I should mention that although the album is divided into tracks and listed that way, it is really just one track. If you close your eyes so that you can’t look at the track numbers on the CD player you will be hard pressed to know when one track ends and the other starts. Consequently you need to set aside about 46 minutes to listen to this album in one sitting. Give yourself that one pleasure.

There is so much I haven’t mentioned in enough detail and I should go on about Lang Lang’s twinkling of the ivories, but will refrain. Just give it a listen. The recording of this album is very good indeed, much better than the usual recording of standard mainstream albums these days. I guess so it should be given Oldfield’s background and means. It was recorded at Abbey Road studios with the exception of the piano pieces which were recorded halfway around the world from Abbey Road at Legacy Recording Studios in New York. The complexity of the recording and the sound-staging is just great.

Sonics: 4.7/5  Music: 4.6/5