Dream Academy: “Morning Lasted All Day: A Retrospective”
The cynical will say a 2 CD career look back for The Dream Academy is excessive. After all, the trio did only have the one hit, the mellow orchestral gem, “Life In A Northern Town.” But to those of us who paid attention while the band delivered three stellar CDs (and a couple of cool covers as b-sides) in their short career, this collection is a goldmine! The two discs are stuffed to the gills with magic that only Gilbert Gabriel, Kate St. John and Nick Laird Clowes could deliver as The Dream Academy. For those who only know the hits “Morning Lasted All Day” is a nice re-introduction. To long time fans, the six never released tracks (including one recorded in 2014) hints at opening the door to a reunion.
U2: “Songs Of Innocence”
Yes, it was a pompous move to force the new CD on everyone with an iTunes account earlier this year. And yes, the fact that they left “Invisible,” the band’s single from earlier this year, off the disc is a huge oversight. And yes, Danger Mouse’s muddled production buries the soaring guitars and driving rhythms under a dull hum. But, if you can forgive and forget all of that, the new U2 CD is a solid effort full of emotional yearning and soulful bliss, aka exactly what you expect from the world’s biggest band. So download it for free from your cloud. Or if you’re a real long time fan like me, buy the 2 CD deluxe version for bonus tracks including acoustic sessions, alt versions and an unreleased new song.
Krush Groove: “Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”
In the history of cinema there are films that define the art of movie making. Citizen Kane. Lawrence Of Arabia. Krush Groove. Wait! What the what? Okay so maybe the 1980s hip-hop film starring Run-DMC, Sheila E and The Fat Boys isn’t a movie masterpiece, but it was revolutionary as it introduced a generation of white suburban kids (including myself) to rap music and urban culture. The soundtrack recently reissued, features a who’s who of the biggest names in 80s music to today, including Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, Blondie singer Debbie Harry and diva supreme Chaka Khan. This CD is a funky fresh trip down memory lane worth taking yo. Word!
Pugwash: “A Rose In A Garden Of Weeds: Preamble Through The History Of…”
Irish Rockers Pugwash wear their influences on their sleeves. Unlike countrymen The Pogues and Black 47, Pugwash channel pop gods ranging from The Beatles to XTC and ELO. This solid collection culled from 12 years of releases. Not bad for a “New Band” you’ve never heard of. The 17 tracks are full of sing along joy. And Pugwash are my new secret (or not so secret) favorite band.
Billy Thermal: Billy Thermal
How can an unreleased CD feature two huge hits? Not covers. Original songs the artist himself wrote. Such is the conundrum of Billy Thermal. This long lost New Wave nugget of Tommy Tutone-esk rock has never seen the light of day. Until now! It features “How Do I Make You,” which became a hit for Linda Ronstadt and “Precious Time” a key Pat Benatar cut. The songs of Billy Thermal should have been huge hits for the band’s leader Billy Steinberg had he not gotten distracted by writing songs for everyone from Madonna to Cyndi Lauper to Heart, The Pretenders and Whitney Houston. But hey, life happens.
Roger Taylor: Best
It’s hard to believe that during his storied career as the drummer for Queen, that Roger Taylor had time to record a dozen solo CDs. But he did. This aptly titled collection culled the cream of the crop from those releases including cuts from 2013’s “Fun On Earth.” In addition, die-hard Queen fans can rejoice all of Taylor’s solo CDs and a bonus DVD are now finally available in the USA in a box set called “The Lot.”
Boy George: “This Is What I Do”
There is no mistaking the smooth croon of Culture Club singer Boy George. Although deeper and a bit weathered, the voice still remains a point of aural comfort. This solo disc, his first in 18 years, is a mostly mellow affair taking on a variety of styles ranging from pop to reggae to 1970s AM Radio pop. Although there are no hits singles that will stick in your brain like “Miss Me Blind” or “Time” it’s a solid release full of joy. Perfect for a nice Sunday morning after a night of cross dressing and club hopping.
Johnny Marr: “Playland”
Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr is a man on fire. After releasing his first ever proper solo disc at the end of 2013 and touring extensively through 2014, Marr drops his second rockin’ solo CD: “Playland.” Like last years “The Messenger,” the CD is a blend of massive guitars and inspired songwriting. And vocally, Marr is only slightly less impressive than he is as an axe slinger. Songs like “Easy Money” will have you bouncing off the walls.
Loverboy: “Unfinished Business”
How many bands can still do it and do it well after for decades? Not many. The Canadian headband wearing rockers are still at it forty years later. Revitalized after their anthem “Working For The Weekend” rocked the 2013 Super Bowl via a hilarious Radio Shack ad, Loverboy return with a new CD. Unlike their last release “Rock & Roll Revival” which featured re-recorded hits and only 3 new tracks, “Unfinished Business” is an entirely brand new CD. Sort of. The band mined their archives for unfinished tracks and then cranked them up. Tracks “Fire It Up” and “Countin’ The Nights” are solid rockers. And the churning “War Bride” sees singer Mike Reno at the top of his game.
Scruffy The Cat: “The Good Goodbye: Unreleased Recordings 1984-1990”
When I moved to Boston in 1985 for college an upperclassman told me, “If you’re a true music fan there are 3 bands you have to see: The Neighborhoods, The Pixies and Scruffy The Cat.” I saw the first 2 bands together within my first semester but it wouldn’t be until 1988 when I got to witness the genius of Scruffy. Like REM and The Feelies they blended college alt rock with country tinges for a unique sound. Throw in the fact that the songs were also so damn smart and became a lifelong fan. This collection is cause for excitement because it is made up of unreleased material from the band’s run. It serves as a celebration of the band and life of singer Charlie Chesterman who sadly died last year. Listening to it is like slipping into a time machine that brings me back to Boston circa 1988 and reminds me of how discovering a new band is one of life’s greatest gifts.
The Empty Hearts: “The Empty Hearts”
Super group Alert! Supergroup Alert! Clem Burke of Blondie is on drums. Elliot Easton on The Cars plays guitar. Romantics lead singer Wally Palmar is the vocalist and Andy Babiuk of Chesterfield Kings play the bass. And Faces pianist Ian McLagan joins in. The CD is a straight ahead homage to sixties garage rock with more hooks than a tackle box. Do you like The Kinks, The Stones and The Beatles? So do the guys in The Empty Hearts. And that makes this a much needed addition to your music collection.
Dennis DeYoung: “The Music Of Styx: Live In L.A.”
In 1999 Styx parted ways with their lead singer/songwriter Dennis De Young, effectively turning one of classic rock’s greatest groups into just another cover band. Although I never knew why Styx continued with a sound-alike singer, like a lot of folks I just assumed that age had taken its toll on DeYoung’s pristine singing voice. But listening to this great 2 CD live set recorded last year in Los Angeles proves that nothing could be father from the truth! Dennis DeYoung sounds amazing hitting every original note he did in his youth. “The Music Of Styx: Live in L.A.” showcases the songs he helped make international hits including “Come Sail Away,” “Best Of Times,” “Mr. Roboto,” “Blue Collar Man” and his solo hit “Desert Moon.”
Big Star: “#1 Record” & “Radio City”
Paul Westerberg was right! The enigmatic group’s work is the stuff of legend. And now you thankfully don’t have to travel too far to hear these sonic testaments to greatness since the classic Big Star CDs: “#1 Record” and “Radio City” are now back in print and remastered due to the efforts of Big Star drummer (and only surviving member) Jodie Stephens. If you don’t have them already (or even if you do) these discs are gems that belong in your collection. Get hip! Get Big Star!
Linkin Park: “The Hunting Party”
These California rockers have made a career out of creatively blending metal, hip-hop and raw emotion into arena rock FM radio staples. Tracks like “Crawling,” “In The End” and “My December” are perfect for fist bumping and heart thumping. Sadly, their latest, “The Hunting Party” is more metal than melancholy, trading in the emotional yearning of their previous albums for pure aggro. Any depth there may be gets lost in sea of wailing guitars and thundering bass riffs.
The New Pornographers: “Brill Bruisers”
This powerhouse art rock collective rolls on after a decade with their best CD yet. “Brill Bruisers” is a rollicking affair with hookier and bigger songs (who knew such a thing was even possible) than even attempted on their previous half-dozen releases. If you need proof, just Spotify/YouTube/Pandora the title track. And the party gets going from there.
Michael Jackson: “Xscape”
Most “Unreleased Material” from superstar artists becomes that because the artist deemed it not good enough to see the light of day. That was my first thought when I heard the estate of the late “King Of Pop” was putting out yet another disc full of unheard tracks completed after his death. The big shock is that this CD is good. Not “Thriller” good, but definitely “Off The Wall” good. The first single: “Love Never Felt So Good” will have you moving your feet and singing along in just one listen. And the rocking (yet unfortunately named) “Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” is as solid as his previous hit “Dirty Diana.” Get ready to Jam on! Oh, and skip the deluxe version, which includes unneeded rough demos and a shoehorned in appearance by Justin Timberlake.
The Posies: “Failure”
Witness the birth of genius! The debut CD from pop godheads The Posies, in all its shimmering glory now re-issued with eight, count em, EIGHT bonus tracks! Long before they became known for their lyrical brilliance and perfect harmonies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were two fresh faced boys just achin’ to be, and this D.I.Y. document shows what happens when determination crashed into raw talent. I would call it pure power pop perfection but putting cliché description on songs like “I May Hate You Sometimes” and “The Longest Line” seems criminal. “Failure” is also available on Vinyl LP.
From prog rock giants to pop stars and beyond: Genesis – Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins – have done it all. This massive, career spanning 3 CD set (compiled in chronological order) highlights the band and individual members’ high points: An impressive output indeed. Highlights include “Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” “Turn It On Again,” “Easy Lover” and “Red Day On Blue Street.”
Morrissey: “World Peace Is None Of Your Business”
Though “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” could easily rest on his past accomplishments, on “World Peace is None of Your Business” he returns with a perfectly bitter and beautiful CD. The one time leader of The Smiths has adds to his collection more than a dozen of dissatisfied ditties that we know and love, stepping up to bring us songwriting is as clever and well read, as it is blunt. And Moz’s croon is as full of anger and yearning as it ever was. Highlights include “University Staircase” and “Istanbul”
David Pack: “Napa Crossroads”
On the surface, this CD of songs from former Ambrosia frontman and his wine making pals seems like a bad idea dreamed up after too much vino. But then you remember it’s David Pack! The master songwriter is at the top of his game here, and for good measure he brings along Bella Fleck and Todd Rundgren. In addition, the disc features the last known recording of late Doors keyboardist/visionary Ray Manzarek. The smooth tunes are perfect for long drive anywhere (including through wine country).
TV Eyes: “TV Eyes”
Whenever Jason Faulkner and Roger Manning Jr. come together they create epic soundscapes of tone and vision. Look at their former bands: Jellyfish, The Grays, Imperial Drag and Moog Cookbook. 15 years ago the duo teamed up with drummer Brian Reitzell (Air, Redd Kross) and got their eighties on. TV Eyes the band was a futuristic synth trip. This CD, formerly only released in Japan, is finally available in America with a bonus 5 track ep. It is a must for fans of the lads and those who call “Safety Dance” their jam.
Yes, she is the same Katrina who went “Walking on Sunshine” through the 1980s (and who won the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest – Ed.). Yes, this is her first CD is a handful of years. Yes, she is sans the Waves. And yes, it is good! Katrina gets her Joni Mitchell meets Neil Young folk rock on. The most impressive part is the pure passion and power of both her song writing and voice.
The Rosebuds: “Sand and Silence”
Nothing happens overnight. 13 years and several releases since forming, the The Rosebuds have finally hit their stride. “Sand and Silence” is an elegant collection of beautiful rock highlighted by singer Kelly Crisp’s haunting vocals. What does she sound like? With traces of The Sundays and dashes of Kate Bush she sounds like my favorite new singer. How about you?
Sinead O’Connor: “I’m Not Bossy I’m the Boss”
In the 1988 I took Rocker Editor In Chief Erin Amar with me to a small club to a listening party for a then unknown Irish singer. Sure we were mostly there for the free food and booze, but what we discovered was a so much more delicious. A brilliant talent delivering her debut album. That artist was Sinead O’Connor. The album was “The Lion and the Cobra.” You know what happened from there. She broke through big. Had a massive hit covering a song written by Prince. Ripped up a picture of the Pope and stumbled out of the spotlight. Although she has continued to release CDs over the past decade, most have been full of lovely, yet sleepy ballads and none of them have rocked. Until now! “I’m not Bossy” is as good as her long ago released debut. Full of angst and anger and most importantly GUITARS.
Game Theory: “Blaze Of Glory”
They say true genius is never really recognized or appreciated until after you die. Sadly, such is the case of Scott Miller, the man behind college rock faves Game Theory, who died in 2013. Happily, Omnivore, who I know realized his brilliance when he was alive, is reissuing the entire Game Theory catalog for the world to enjoy. First up is the critically acclaimed band’s 1982 lo-fi debut: “Blaze Of Glory” with 27 tracks! (12 original. 15 bonus.) The CD showcases glint of quirky pop genius that were yet to come and is a nice intro to a band you should have loved as much as we did back in the day.
Mark Lanegan Band: “Phantom Radio”
Here are some words that will never be used to describe the music of Mark Lanegan: Peppy. Joyful. Danceable crossover hits. Here are some words that capture what he does: dark, brooding, awe-inspiring. Like Nick Cave or Jim Morrison, the former Screaming Trees / Queens of the Stone Age singer wraps his beautiful baritone around deeply thought out majestic tales of life, love and loss. His latest “Phantom Radio” may not make you smile but it will make you happy.