Good afternoon, ED followers! Welcome to Quick Album Reviews, or QARs for short.
This is a new series I’m starting on ED where I review albums that I want to review but, for some reason, haven’t had the time and/or words. See, this year, my goal has been to listen to every new album and see every new movie that I am interested in and publish some sort of review on it. However, when it comes to albums, I’m interested in a lot of them. So this Quick Album Reviews series is how I’ll cut the slack, because, without it, I wouldn’t be able to publish any comments on some of the albums.
Artist: Gone Is Gone
Genre: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Release Date: January 6, 2017
Length: 55 min.
Producers: Gone Is Gone
Personnel: Troy Sanders (lead vocals, bass guitar), Troy Van Leeuwen (guitars), Mike Zarin (guitars, keyboards), Tony Hajjar (drums)
I respect Gone is Gone and Echolocation. I first checked into Gone is Gone because I love Mastodon, especially with their 2017 release, Emperor of Sand, my current favorite album of the year by far. And Troy Sanders, bassist and vocalist for Mastodon, is the bassist and lead vocalist for Gone is Gone, a super-group also made up of Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens of the Stone Age, Tony Hajjar from At the Drive-In, and film composer and rock musician Mike Zarin, who worked with Van Leeuwen on Descent to the Surface.
If you know the bands the members are from, the music is often a melding of those sounds. On their first full length outing here, Gone is Gone has effectively and successfully crafted an excellent mixture made up of sludgy heavy metal, post-hardcore punk, and groovy alt rock and alt metal. And the guys want this sound and this record to be the soundtrack to a movie that’s never been, the movie of the audiences’ lives.
Instrumentally, this is one of the finest rock and metal albums I’ve heard this year. I love the cinematic feel Gone is Gone injects into many of the songs, along with the awesome stoner/sludge metal guitar and bass work, especially in “Slow Awakening,” which I really enjoyed, and “Pawns,” where I got a strong Iommi vibe, especially his work on Master of Reality.
Unfortunately, there’s not necessarily a ton of super memorable material here lyrically and vocally, for my tastes. Sanders’s voice is actually great though, and there are a few lyrical moments that do connect with me. It’s a great product to come out of one of these super-groups where some guys from other bands get together to have a little fun. I don’t love Echolocation, but I definitely recommend it.
Favorite Songs: “Gift,” “Dublin,” “Ornament,” “Pawns,” “Slow Awakening,” “Resolve,” and “Echolocation”
Artist: Dropkick Murphys
Title: 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory
Genre: Celtic Folk Punk Rock
Release Date: January 6, 2017
Length: 39 min.
Label: Born & Bred
Producers: Ted Hutt
Personnel: Al Barr (lead vocals), Tim Brennan (guitars, accordion, Mellotron, tin whistle, backing vocals), Ken Casey (lead vocals, bass guitar), Jeff DaRosa (banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, harmonica, acoustic guitars, vocals), Matt Kelly (drums, percussion, backing vocals), James Lynch (guitars, backing vocals), Ted Hutt (percussion), Lee Forshner (bagpipes)
What do you get when you mix traditional Irish folk music like The High Kings with ’70s and ’80s punk rock like The Ramones and ’70s hard rock like AC/DC? Well, of course, you get the Dropkick Murphys, a Celtic punk band that’s been beating around Boston since 1996, bringing always their unique Irish-American heritage flavor and keeping a distinctly Irish spirit of down-to-earth sincerity without taking themselves too seriously. They sing their hearts out and have fun doing it.
Though this album may not be quite as hard and gritty as past Dropkick Murphys efforts, it maintains the same energy and enthusiasm, whichever influences they Murphys are leaning on most at the time. There are old-timey Irish ballads, bar songs, punk anthems, and rocking tunes, while the songs are really a mix of all those things.
There are songs with real meaning, too. “Rebels with a Cause” is about kids the system has passed by. “Paying My Way” is about getting out of something like addiction, about striving for better things. “4-15-13” is about the Boston Marathon Bombing victims, very close to home for the band. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is a cover of the Carousel musical number, and the Murphys did it because they want people to know that they may be sad or depressed but they don’t have to give up hope, because they don’t ever have to be alone.
This is the Murphys’ ninth album now, their first in four years, and for the first time they decided to leave their beloved Boston to record, and they headed to Texas. But not to become cowboys. Instead, the Murphys did this to lock themselves away, and I think it paid off. The lads, here, successfully stay true to their roots while also expanding their sound and lyrics.
Favorite Songs: “Rebels with a Cause,” “Paying My Way,” “I Had a Hat,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “4-15-13”
Genre: Electronic Progressive Hard Rock
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Length: 70 min.
Label: Razor & Tie
Producers: Rob Graves
Personnel: Dustin Bates (lead vocals, keyboard, guitars), Brock Richards (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ron DeChant (bass, keyboard, backing vocals), Adam Gilbert (drums)
Frontman Dustin Bates has accurately described Starset’s music as cinematic rock, as an experience, which is exactly true.
Starset’s first album, Transmissions, was very hard rock inspired, but, on Vessels, Bates and company bring in various metal subgenres, djent guitar work, ambient music, orchestral strings, EDM, and more. You might also hear influences from the likes of Linkin Park, Daft Punk, Deftones, Muse, Flyleaf, Red, Breaking Benjamin, Nine Inch Nails, Thirty Seconds to Mars, and Hans Zimmer. The Starset chefs mix all this together, cook it up, and serve it hot via a strange, melodic, powerful, beautiful, atmospheric, concept album. And though the runtime is 70 minutes, each song feels important, and the concept is consistently compelling.
Still… I like it, but Starset and Vessels just don’t click with me one-hundred percent. I will totally understand if other reviewers have this on their top of 2017 lists, but, for me, it’s not that high. Beside it just not being completely my thing, I think, though each song is important, 70 minutes is too long for something like this. On top of that, many of the lyrics seem rather sappy, dreamy, and saccharine – though, for the most part, darkly so – in a way that many people will like but I didn’t always appreciate.
Even so, if you are seeking an experimental, progressive, energetic, passionate, highly original 2017 release, Vessels will meet your needs. It’s an album that engages and works on many levels, while taking us on a journey driven by both music and themes. You’ll believe this is, indeed, a transmission from another world, and you’ll probably want to replay it at least a few times.
Starset are making their own way in the music industry and doing it on their own terms, both musically and lyrically. I respect that.
Favorite Songs: “Frequency,” “Into the Unknown,” “Back to the Earth,” “Last to Fall,” “Bringing It Down,” and “Monster”
Artist: Alison Krauss
Title: Windy City
Release Date: February 17, 2017
Length: 34 min.
Producers: Buddy Cannon
Personnel: Alison Krauss (lead vocals, fiddle), Barry Bales (bass), Richard Bennett (bass, guitars), Ron Block (guitar), Melonie Cannon (backing vocals), Sidney Cox (backing vocals), Suzanne Cox (backing vocals), Chad Cromwell (drums), Teddy Gentry (backing vocals), John Hobbs (piano), Jamey Johnson (backing vocals), Mike Johnson (steel guitar), Brent Mason (guitars), Matt Rollings (piano), Jeff Taylor (accordion), Bobby Terry (guitar), Dan Tyminksi (backing vocals), Tommy White (steel guitar), Hank Williams Jr. (backing vocals), plus other musicians playing various strings, brass, and percussion instruments
Windy City is Alison Krauss’s first album in six years, her first non-Union Station album in ten years, and her first solo album in eighteen years! Thankfully, Windy City, is genuinely good, an entrancing tribute to Nashville-centered music of another era. Every song is a wonderfully performed cover of old Nashville Sound artists: Brenda Lee, The Osborne Brothers, Mac Wiseman, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Vern Gosdin, Glenn Campbell, Bill Monroe, and Eddy Arnold. And though Krauss pays them gorgeous, sometimes haunting tribute, I can’t help but love Krauss’s renditions even more than the originals.
Alison has always been one of my favorite female vocalists of any music genre, and her voice sounds as alluring as ever here, despite the medical problems she’s fought through with her voice, which caused the length of time between albums that I mentioned above. Her lead vocals are strong and mature here. And the musicians backing her up do a fantastic job as well, whether they are string sections, electrical guitars, steel guitars, or your standard bluegrass instruments. I still prefer Krauss be with her band, Union Station, but there’s no way on earth that I can deny how enthralled I am with her voice and this little record. Despite it’s appearance here in the Quick Album Review series, it may end up on my 2017 top list, at least as an honorable mention.
Krauss and her producer selected the ten songs here well, and, satisfyingly, she performs them richly. If you’re a fan of any Alison Krauss material, or even if you don’t have any idea who Alison Krauss is but you enjoy good female-led folk, country, bluegrass, blues, or rhythm and blues, you need to check out Windy City immediately. Afterward, I recommend diving immediately into her back catalog. You won’t regret it.
Favorite Songs: “It’s Goodbye and So Long to You,” “Windy City,” “River in the Rain,” “Gentle On My Mind,” “All Alone Am I,” and “You Don’t Know Me”