Monday, November 22, 2010

If I Can't Change Your Mind ...

Sugar is an Alternative rock band formed by ex-Husker Du member Bob Mould. I would even go so far as to call them grunge-like due to their biting guitar tones and sombre undertones. The bands debut "Copper Blue" is one of my favourite albums. "Copper Blue" is more then just alternative or grunge. It is chalk full of hooks and uplifting melodies all while based in a melancholic foundation.

Having never heard any Husker Du, I'm unaware of any influences or styles that may have carried over. Also, I owned the follow up EP "Beaster" for a while, but it never stuck with me and I sold it. I like "Copper Blue" so much, that I'm reluctant to check out their later albums and face disappointment. "Copper Blue" is just one of those albums that is simply great.

There is not a bad song on here. "The Act We Act", "A Good Idea" and the acoustically driven "Hoover Dam" are uplifting melodic rock songs with the formers having a thick grungy foundation. "The Slim", "Slick" are dark songs that are just downright bleak, in my opinion. But they are performed with conviction and passion and retain memorable melodies.

My favourite songs are the epicly simplistic "Hoover Dam", the lullaby-like "Man On The Moon" which I hope to put my kids to sleep with one day. "Changes" is uber catchy and emotionally stirring and is my 2nd favourite song on "Copper Blue" My favourite track is "If I Can't Change Your Mind" which is an acoustic based rock song with an old school rock vibe. It is super catchy and hopeful with an uplifting melody and a great solo.

Overall, "Copper Blue" is a great listen for those looking to listen to something a little more melodic and mellow, but doesn't shy away from it's harder edge influences. Instead Sugar embraces them and creates an album of passionate rock songs that blends the lines of some genres.

Up next, I'm going to review an album by an artist I'm far from familiar with. However, I am very familiar with the band he sets out to emulate in tribute to a fallen member that died 5 years ago.

Ryan Adam's "Orion".

Monday, November 08, 2010

You AreThe Safest Way Into Tomorrow

Trans-Siberian Orchestra's (TSO) long awaited "Night Castle" has had me on a fence of like and disappointed since I first bought the CD the day it was released. What I mean is, I hold TSO to a high order of quality and I felt they let me down.

I've been a longtime fan of Savatage (since "Edge Of Thorns") owning their entire catalogue and loving both their earlier style and the progressively more theatrical turn with their latest albums. I have also been a huge TSO fan (since The Christmas Attic was released) and have been to every TSO show that has come through my area since they stated adding Canadian dates.

I don't say this in order to brag, but simply to state my passion for all things TSO and Savatage. I have yet to be disappointed by a Trans-Siberian Orchestra album to date and after several (disappointing) delays of the release of "Night Castle". I held the double album in my hands and eagerly anticipated giving it a spin.

And it was on this first listen that my heart sank in disappointment. See, here's the thing. It took around 4 odd years to release "Night Castle" and what we got was a rehash of a number of Savatage songs. For example; Savatage's "Prelude To Madness" became TSO's "The Mountain" and Savatage's "Mozart and Madness" became "Mozart and Memories". This to me felt like lazy writing. I mean, they had 4 years and they couldn't record different classical compositions. For crying out loud, they were pushing "Carmina Burana" for years on tour as coming up on the "Night Castle" album and then put it on as a bonus track. What the hell is that about? They could've just used that song instead of "The Mountain" and put the "Prelude To Madness" cover as a bonus track.

Now this may seem rather harsh, but I had high hopes for this album. I had the feeling that "Night Castle" was too simplistic to have taken so long to release. However, much like TSO's "The Lost Christmas Eve", this album has grown on me and I've come to enjoy it quite a lot. "Night Castle" is a double album, so there are plenty of original songs (more so then plenty of rock albums)and if TSO can encourage fans to check out the back catalogue of Savatage, I say Amen, Brother!

If I can lay down one more gripe. A minor one. Trans-Siberian Orchestra has also done a cover of Savatage's "Believe". Although, it is mostly faithful, I find it odd that with 3 great guitarists (Skolnick, Caffery and Pitrelli) they don't do the solo at that carries the song out as brilliantly as the original. I only say this because "Believe" is not only favourite song, but the greatest song ever written. At least for me. The layered solo is absolutely brilliant and in my opinion, essential. It just seems weird that the 3 didn't recreate that solo.

I'm all for making a song your own, but c'mon! That solo is a killer. Anywho, the TSO version on "Night Castle" is pretty good and better then some of the performances of it live. Heck, they tour with 2 guitarists and usually a 3rd when needed by one of the vocalists.

Well, I guess you're wondering what the album is like. I liken it to a mix of Savatage's "Poets & Madmen" with the rock ballad stylings off of TSO's "The Lost Christmas Eve". Add in a hint of Sava's "Dead Winter Dead" and you get the idea. There is a lot of material here, but truly, the album flows well for a running time of 2 hours.

There are the standard instrumentals with the opener "Night Enchanted" along with "The Mountain", "Mozart and Memories", "Moonlight and Madness" and "Toccata-Carpimus Noctern". These are done in the traditional TSO way of taking classical pieces and giving them some metal cred. Or should I say shred.

We have the rockers in "Sparks" which could be a radio hit, "Night Castle", "Another Way You Can Die" and "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" with the wonderful Jennifer Cella on vocals. Tim Hockenberry and the versatile Jeff Scott Soto bring life to the other rockers.

Mainstays Jay Pierce and Rob Evan bring heart and compassion to some of the slower ballad songs like "Childhood Dreams" , "There was a Life" and "Epiphany". And let's not forget the interludes such as "Bach, Lullaby" and "Embers". I should mention here that "There Was A Life" and "Epiphany" are my favourite songs off the album. Both are epic power ballads that exude passion and emotion by the talented Rob Evan.

All in all, "Night Castle" is a solid release (never-minding my initial disappointments). I very much enjoy listening to it now, and the rockier edge allows it to be a little more accessible then "Beethoven's Last Night". For those looking be introduced to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I would recommend their first 2 Christmas albums "Christmas Eve & Other Stories" and "The Christmas Attic".