The Lumineers – Cleopatra (deluxe vinyl edition)

Folk rock is a style of music that had fallen out of favor in the past decades, but the genre has been making quite a comeback in recent years. Leading the pack in the stripped down, rootsy Americana laden style of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”, and Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” is the Lumineers. “Cleopatra” is their second album.

I discovered The Lumineers a bit late compared to some. A friend of mine who is also into music told me about them after “Cleopatra” and its first single, “Ophelia” had already topped the Billboard charts. I was on a kick rediscovering some older records and not paying as much attention to some of the music coming out at the time. I checked The Lumineers out online and was really impressed. I also discovered that I was familiar with their first single “Hey Ho” from their eponymous debut. I guess I was paying a little attention.

Rather than their debut, I decided to pick up “Cleopatra” as my first album by The Lumineers since I had started to hear “Ophelia” and the title track from the album on the radio. I also ran across a good deal on a deluxe edition of it, which from a collector’s view, is always a bonus. The deluxe album comes in a die cut gate fold cover and is pressed on two slate gray records which go along with the cover art, a picture of silent film star Theda Bara, who played Cleopatra in the 1917 film. The second record contains four bonus tracks not included with the regular version of the album.

Like Petty’s “Wildflowers”, Springsteen’s “The River”, and early Dylan, this is an album I will enjoy at those times I want to chill out and listen to something simple yet melodically engaging. A truly wonderful album.

Red Rider – Neruda

Tom Cochrane never believed in following trends. He believed in individuality. That’s a theme that weaves throughout Red Rider’s third album, “Neruda”.

The album’s title was nod to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who was exiled from his home country for holding on to his individualistic beliefs. The songs on “Neruda” all revolve around the importance of the individual living in a society geared towards following trends in order to fit in.

Red Rider was one of the best Canadian rock bands in the 1980’s. Their guitarist, singer and songwriter, Tom Cochrane was one of the most gifted songwriters of that decade. His songs always had a lyrical depth that was far beyond most of his peers. The accompanying music was always a perfect blend of guitar and keyboards, not too polished or rough around the edges; never over produced. Like Red Rider’s other albums, the songs on “Neruda” are easy to listen to but could be at the same time aggressive and challenging. They were always well written and intriguing. And perhaps most importantly, they are never ever trendy.

The Tragically Hip – Fully Completely

There are two types of people when it comes to The Tragically Hip. Those who love them as one of the most incredible rock bands ever, and those who have never heard of them. That latter group doesn’t know what the ‘F’ they’re missing out on. But you Canadian’s know.

If I had to pick a favorite Tragically Hip album, I suppose it would be “Fully Completely”. Only because, barring the sentimentality behind first hearing them on my honeymoon in Toronto, this was the album where I realized what incredible band The Tragically Hip were.

It was on “Fully, Completely”, that I discovered how wonderful it can be after the honeymoon; when I could strip out the newness and the sentimentality. It was a time when I first analyzed the core and heart and soul before me and realized the awesome aura of honesty, sincerity and passion surrounding me.

Wait a second…was I talking about my wife of almost 30 years or The Tragically Hip’s music.

Oh yeah…both.

I love you Helen.

The Hip are pretty F’ing awesome too.

The Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now

You really can feel the influence of producer Todd Rundgren on the Psychedelic Furs third album, “Forever Now”. Still, I wonder what David Bowie had done with it.

Adding just a little polish to their post-punk sound and expanding their music with the occasional cello or horns, Rundgren helped give The Psychedelic Furs their first big hit album in the US. They already had two in the UK, with producer Steve Lillywhite in the control room.

But Todd Rundgren wasn’t The Furs first choice to sit at the helm of “Forever Now”. David Bowie was a big proponent of the Psychedelic Furs, speaking highly of them on numerous occasions. The Furs had also considered Bowie a big influence and approached him first. Unfortunately, Bowie was tied up with work on his own album, “Let’s Dance”.

Although Steve Lillywhite was responsible for opening American audiences to The Psychedelic Furs, giving them their first taste of success across the Atlantic with their second album, “Talk Talk Talk” it was “Forever Now” that opened the band up to a broader base and gave them their first album to break into Billboard’s Hot 100. The song “Love My Way” also received significant airplay on MTV. Along with “Talk Talk Talk”, “Forever Now” is the Psychedelic Furs at their creative best.

Still, I wonder what David Bowie had done with it.

Muse – Simulation Theory (super deluxe edition)

When Muse comes out with a new album, I never fully know what to expect, except I expect it to be totally awesome. With that, “Simulation Theory”, the eighth album from Muse, is exactly what I expected.

Like Muse’s last few albums, “Simulation Theory” is more than just a collection of songs; there is a theme wrapped around all of them. This time though, the trio steps back a bit from the seriousness of “The Second Law” and “The Resistance”, instead diving into a
science fiction virtual reality world. But that’s not to say there aren’t also underlying sociopolitical statements. This is Muse I’m talking about after all.

I pre-ordered the super deluxe edition of “Simulation Theory” because from what I had already heard from the singles released on the Internet, I knew I was going to like it. It was packaged as a double album with basically, an alternate version of the album on a second record and both records on CDs. It also came with free pre-release digital downloads for some of the songs. I would have gladly paid the price for this just for the two records alone. The album artwork designed by “Stranger Things” artist Kyle Lambert fits the sci-fi theme of the album perfectly, as does the heavy use of synthesizers and electronics in the music.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, it also came with pre-release access to tickets for their upcoming concerts. I have seen Muse live twice already and look forward to seeing them again. Those two shows rank among the most amazing concerts I have been to, ranking right up there with Rodger Waters performing The Wall, Pink Floyd, and TSO.

My favorite song on the original album is probably “Break It to Me” with its strange chord bends on the guitar. My favorites on the bonus record are tied between the gospel version of “Dig Down” and the live version of “Pressure” performed with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band. I thought the latter was such an odd combination when I read it in the credits, I didn’t know what to expect. But it was awesome. Exactly what I expect from Muse.

The Human League – Dare

The Human League’s third album, “Dare”,
was for the most part, my introduction to synth-pop and electronic music. Up to that time, I had listened to a lot of bands that used synthesizers and loved the versatility and expanded sound they brought to rock and roll. But I don’t think I had ever heard a band that used synths exclusively; no guitars and no real drums. If I had, The Human League was the first to make an impression on me.

“Dont You Want Me” was the first song I heard off of “Dare”; it was all over the radio in 1981. But it wasn’t the airwave saturation that grabbed me; it was the switch-hitting baritone and alto vocals of Philip Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley. It was the lyrics. It was the catchy hook of the song. And of course, it was the synthesizers. Only synthesizers.

Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85

The 1980s saw a huge rise in the popularity of synth-pop bands. Scritti Politti was one of many that had success with only a couple of albums and then faded away. “Cupid & Psyche 85” was their most successful album, finding its biggest popularity in the UK where it hit the #5 spot on the charts and spun off three top 20 singles. In the US, the album peaked the charts at 50 and had only one hit single, “Perfect Way” which went up to #11.

The first song I heard off “Cupid & Psyche 85” was “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)”. I remember being immediately grabbed by the song’s funky groove. What made me want to listen to the whole album though was its crisp, production and innovative use of synthesizers and electronic keys. That same production and innovation resonates through every song on “Cupid & Psyche 85”. It is a synth-pop album that showcased what the genre was capable of.

Easterhouse – Contenders

I have to put politics aside when I listen to “Contenders”, the debut album by Easterhouse. You know you’re leaning far to the left when you dog the British Labour party for not being left enough.

Politics aside, I love the energy on this album. The lyrics are intelligent and passionate. I can appreciate that, even if I don’t agree with their sentiments. This is the sound of a band trying to make a difference. Your specific point of view is irrelevant here. The music is so good, so intoxicating, that you can’t help but listen…and you can’t help but hear their message…

…Agree with it or not.

In the end, I think that was all Easterhouse really wanted.

Jools Holland Meets Rock ‘A’ Boogie Billy

Rock-a-billy music with a boogie-woogie twist.

Hillbilly music is old school country music. I’m talking real old school; the earliest and purist form of country music. Picture the 1920s and ’30s, sitting on a front porch in the deep south with your friends; cutting loose and having fun with a fiddle, banjo, a couple other homemade instruments and a jug of homemade moonshine, and you kind of get the idea. Combine that with early 1950’s rock and roll and you have rock-a-billy music.

So what does legendary British pianist (and Brit telly host) Jools Holland know about distinctly American rock-a-billy music? Enough to know that if you add a boogie-woogie swing to it, you’ve got something that’s really unique and really cooks.

I was compelled to buy this record because I knew Jools Holland as one of the founding members of Squeeze, an alternative band from England whom I was really into and who sound…well, nothing like rock-a-billy or boogie-woogie. They are best known for their songs “Tempted” and “Black Coffee in Bed”. From the title of the album, I knew this would be Jool Holland stepping away from Squeeze and doing something different. But it was more than thatmore than that

The Tragically Hip – World Container

It never ceases to amaze me how a band can be so immensely popular in one country and right across the national border…virtually nothing. Such was the fate of The Tragically Hip.

In Canada, The Hip sold out arenas, topped the Canadian record charts with nine of their 13 albums, won 16 Juno awards – the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Yet across the border, in the United States, most people have never heard of The Tragically Hip.

I don’t get it.

This is a band that in their 33 year musical career, released 13 albums and every one of them kicked ass. Not a dud in the lot. Not even close.

Canadian rockers got The Hip. Americans never really did. I remember seeing them live at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1999. Over 20 thousand seats filled. I remember thinking “Wow! Maybe at least Detroit gets what The Hip were all about.

Then I noticed all the shirts and banners with red maple leafs on them. I bet over 15 thousand Canadians crossed the Detroit/Windsor border that day just to see The Tragically Hip play.

And for that day, I too was a Canadian rocker.

Well, at least for a couple of hours.