Tori Amos Live in Atlanta

Grammy-nominated piano rocker Tori Amos kicked off the U.S. leg of her 2011 Night of Hunters Tour this week in Atlanta at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. In support of her first classical album Night of Hunters, Amos was accompanied by award-winning string quartet Apollon Musagète. The two-hour set included several songs from her new album, as well as re-worked versions of various songs from her illustrious body of work. Many of Amos’ most beloved favorites, including “Hey Jupiter,” “Spark” and “A Sorta Fairytale,” have been newly arranged specifically to include the string quartet for this tour.

As the curtain went up, the quartet began to play and Amos (dressed in a flowing teal dress and shiny gold stilettos) received thunderous applause as she joined in on piano. The 48-year-old, fire-haired chanteuse appeared as passionate as ever as she delighted and thrilled an entire theatre filled with nearly 3,000 long-time Amos die hards.“That is not my blood on the bedroom floor,” declared Amos as she began the show with “Shattering Sea,” the first track on Night of Hunters.Upon completion of her opening number, Amos remarked with appetence, “It’s good to be home baby” (a heartfelt reference to the tour’s first performance on American soil), before launching into a brilliant rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”

Amos was in fine form and voice as she demonstrated her staggering vocal and playing skills throughout the spirited concert, which included ample interplay between the singer and string section. The inspiring set included multiple solo performances by Amos, which seemed to satisfy old-school Amos fans, who still long for the intimate ‘girl and her piano’ days when her career was in its infancy. She voraciously visited her impressive musical canon during the night’s set list, whetting the audience’s insatiable appetite and leaving little to be desired, even among the most devoted of fans. Among the numerous highlights was a heavily re-imagined string version of “Cruel” (from 1998’s From the Choirgirl Hotel), which resulted in the night’s first standing ovation, as well as an inspired and emotive version of Joni Mitchell’s Christmas-time classic “River.”

Amos’ electrically charged performance also included brief moments of humor as she broke into an improvised ditty about how her beloved Bösendorfer piano almost didn’t make it to the Atlanta show. Other times, the artist performed with the intensity of a woman possessed, who seemed to be a mere vessel which the songs commanded and bent to their musical will.

The evening finished with a pummeling climax as Amos returned to the stage to deliver an exhilarating four-song encore, which ultimately concluded with a collective sing-along to “Leather” and “Precious Things” (from Amos’ 1992 solo debut Little Earthquakes), which caused the theatre to erupt in a sea of ear-splitting screams. And finally, a bombastic version of “Big Wheel” (earning Amos her second standing ovation of the night) brought the adrenaline-charged musical affair to a close. Amos’ Night of Hunters Tour is a not to be missed experience for Tori-philes and music adherents alike.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Daughtry: ‘Break the Spell’

Daughtry seems to be in the midst of a musical identity crisis. Recently, Chris Daughtry proclaimed his band’s latest would sound completely different from its predecessors, but by the album’s second track, you will realize Break the Spell doesn’t live up to that promise. Instead, what you get here is more of the same: radio friendly pop ballads mixed with arena style rockers. This recently released third entry into Daughtry’s discography is not as musically disparate or engaging as 2009’s Leave This Town, which was an appealing blend of rock, pop and country flavors.

Blasting off with the disc’s heaviest and hardest rocking tune “Renegade,” and immediately followed by the paint-by-numbers, pop-rock single “Crawling Back To You, ” expectations are instantly eschewed that an all-out rock assault is about to ensue. Daughtry’s intention to diversify towards authentic rock comes off sounding cliché, and generic. Plagued with trite lyrics scattered throughout, such as “My heart, I wear it on my sleeve,” “Like a moth into a flame,” and “There’s part of you keeping me alive,” this set too often shifts back and forth between overly maudlin and just plain sappy.

With that said, Break the Spell does have some captivating and memorable moments. For example, the Bon Jovi-sounding rocker “Outta My Head,” and power ballad “Crazy,” are among the best of the lot. Also, the mid-tempo “Start of Something Good,” and the solemn “Gone Too Soon,” are worthy examples of Chris Daughtry’s ample songwriting talent, and are easily the album’s strongest offerings.

Regrettably, Break the Spell never fulfills its mission of delivering an unabashed rock effort and genuine nuggets of musical magic are few and far between. Perhaps the band should consider severing ties with long-time producer Howard Benson and pursue other collaborators before its next release, as the spell apparently has been broken.

Jack’s Mannequin: ‘People and Things’

After surviving the breakup of his teen band Something Corporate and a life threatening battle with leukemia, Jack’s Mannequin frontman Andrew McMahon is once again focusing his attention on what he does best, which is making poignant, piano-based alt-rock. On JM’s third album People and Things, McMahon and company (Bobby Anderson, Jay McMillan, with guest appearances by current Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney and Soul Coughing’s Sebastian Steinberg) tackle themes concerning everyday struggles of life and immortality.

Kicking off the set is first single “My Racing Thoughts,” which is a superb piece of piano rock that rivals some of Elton John’s best ’70s hits. Noticeably absent this time around are the usual teen angst lyrical confessions, which have been replaced here with grown-up introspection. This change is most evident in the tracks “Restless Dream,” which is a stripped down slice of musical melancholia, as well as in the surprisingly upbeat doomsday ode “Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die).”

The bulk of McMahon’s lyrics on People and Things mostly dive into familiar, yet highly relatable topics of affairs of the heart, but are delivered with staunch veracity that makes the subject matter seem transcendent. No earth shattering revelations are to be found on this disc, but this latest musical opus is full of catchy hooks and strong melodies galore, which are easily among McMahon’s best offerings to date.

The emotional closer “Casting Lines” provides the perfect ending to this impressive musical jaunt about pondering where we belong and coming to terms with our own fates, as its final refrain states: “You learn to run, you learn to race through life/This unforgiving pace, these lines we’re chasing to the truth.”

Although Jack’s Mannequin hasn’t been able to match the balls to the wall gusto of Everything in Transit, its 2005 critically acclaimed debut, People and Things is easily the most musically cohesive album in the band’s catalog thus far. There is no vexing filler to be found anywhere on this disc, which these days is an unusually rare thing. Dedicated fans will want to download the hauntingly ethereal iTunes bonus track “Broken Bird,” which was questionably omitted on the physical copy of the record and manages to encapsulate all of JM’s best qualities in one song.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Ben Young is Chasing His Dreams as a Guitar Tech to the Stars

BenYoung

Middle Tennessee State University alumnus Ben Young has managed to build a respected reputation in the Los Angeles music circle as a successful guitar technician to the stars. Originally from Tampa, Fla., Young relocated to Murfreesboro in the late ’90s to attend MTSU’s highly acclaimed Recording Industry Management program. After graduating in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science degree in audio production and technology, Young ventured out west to fulfill his musical dreams. Currently residing in Burbank, California, Young has managed to maintain an active and successful career in the music industry. During his travels with various artists such as Sum 41, 30 Seconds to Mars, OK Go and Avril Lavigne, Young has visited numerous locales including England, Sweden, Greece and Germany. Currently on tour with rock band Sublime with Rome, Young took time out of his busy schedule to talk with The Murfreesboro Pulse.

Murfreesboro Pulse: Can you explain what specifically your job entails?
Ben Young: As a guitar tech, I’m responsible for making sure the artist’s guitars are tuned before and during a show. I’m the guy you see on stage before and during a concert handing off guitars to the performers.

MP: What is a typical day on the job like for you?
BY: When on tour, whatever time load in is, that’s when my job starts. Sometimes it can be as early as 10 in the morning or as late as 3 in the afternoon. Once loading starts, I grab equipment from the truck and start setting it up on the stage and make sure everything works properly and sounds the way it’s supposed to sound. It’s my job to fix any problems that have arisen. Once everything has been set up, I check everything going through the monitors and the front of house system to ensure everything sounds the way it should sound. Then after the show is over, we tear it all down and do it all again the next day.

MP: What instruments do you play?
BY: I play guitar and bass, and I sing a little bit.

MP: Didn’t you also previously work as tour manager?
BY: Yes, I managed a Murfreesboro band called The Ricketts while I was at MTSU, and that experience eventually set me towards my current path.

MP: Can you take me through your journey from Florida to MTSU?
BY: I found out about MTSU’s Recording Industry Management program through Spongebath Records, which was a local indie label in Murfreesboro. I was a fan of their bands and that led me to MTSU. I didn’t know that major existed until then, but after discovering it, I decided that was going to be my major in college.

MP: How did you get to Burbank from Murfreesboro?
BY: After I graduated, I moved out to Los Angeles in January 2003, and I worked at a recording studio for a few months. My original plan was to become a producer, so I got a job at a recording studio right away. While working at the studio, I met a band called Steriogram, who was recording their debut record for Capitol Records, and I convinced them to hire me as their tour manager and guitar tech. That’s how I ended up on the road and I learned the job as I went. At first I pretended to know what I was doing, although at the time I didn’t know shit, but I learned the ropes pretty quick.

MP: Tell me about your current gig working with Sublime with Rome. Didn’t you recently tour abroad?
BY: Yes, we recently toured South America. We played Buenos Aires and then had eight shows in Brazil. Then we played several festivals and headlining shows in London, Sweden, Austria, Greece and Germany.

MP: Do you ever think back to your radio show days at WMTS and find it difficult to believe this is really your life nowadays?
BY: Back in my WMTS days, I used to work for a band called The Matches. They’re what’s called a band’s band, if you will. While working with them, I got to tour with them and meet a lot of the people I listened to when I was growing up and played on WMTS all the time. Bands like Reel Big Fish, Blink 182 and Less Than Jake, for example. Now I’m on tour with these people and friends with them, which is kind of interesting. Seeing my life come together in the way that it has doesn’t blow my mind, but I’m sure my 18-year-old self would’ve thought what I’m doing now is amazing. Although nowadays I guess I’m somewhat jaded. Ha ha!

MP: What made you seek out guitar technician as a career?
BY: My career has slowly evolved into working as a guitar tech. During my previous experience working with artists as tour manager, production assistant, as well as a guitar tech, it slowly became obvious to me that my talents are best suited to be a guitar technician. Plus the money is pretty good.

MP: Are there any negative aspects of your job that you worry about or fear?
BY: I’m pretty happy about what I’m doing right now, but I do worry about reaching the glass ceiling in this line of work. I’m making a good living at 30, but I don’t want to be making this same amount of money when I’m 45. I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open for other opportunities, but for right now, I really enjoy doing what I’m doing.

MP: Do you have any sage advice to offer current recording industry majors thinking about a career in the music business?
BY: People often ask me how to break into the business, but there’s really no one good answer. It often comes down to a lot of luck, timing and talent. It’s all about networking and building a good rapport with people. It took me a long time of working for very little money, but the relationships I made along the way eventually paid off for me. I never committed myself to following just one path or one dream. I think if you focus on only one direction, you might miss a chance that could lead to even greater possibilities.

©2011 The Murfreesboro Pulse

 

Lenny Kravitz: ‘Black and White America’

There’s no secret or mysterious concept hidden beneath the surface of Lenny Kravitz’s ninth studio album, Black and White America. His latest effort tackles issues associated with racism, reflecting upon how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go when it comes to society’s ongoing struggles with racial relations. Kravitz’s latest self-produced collection offers immense, sexy riffs aplenty, while frequently shifting moods and tempos. Throughout, the “Let Love Rule” singer waxes poetically about a future utopia when America will finally be free of racial tensions.

Kravitz effectively manages to create a multi-tempo  musical ebb and flow, efficaciously commanding your attention throughout the album’s lengthy 16-song track list. This is an arduous coup few artists are rarely capable of accomplishing. The 1970s-sounding title track includes an infectious groove, supplemented by strings, brass, and lots of funky bass riffs. “There is no division don’t you understand/The future looks as though it has come around/And maybe we are fighting for our common ground/We’ve waited so long,” Kravitz sings on repeat. Of course previous singles “Stand” and “Come On Get It” are included here, alongside the album’s most incongruent track “Boongie Drop,” which features DJ Military and rapping by Jay-Z. Although the latter starts off full of potential, the tune ultimately misses the mark of achieving true greatness.

Black and White America is a laudable musical statement, and a much needed reminder of how prodigious Kravitz is at melding together rock and funk.  Also worth mentioning is the bonus track “War,” which not only works well within the album’s concept, but is also one of Kravitz’s strongest performances in years.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Various Artists: ‘Reggae’s Gone Country’

Reggae's Gone Country

What happens when two very distinctive musical worlds collide? The answer is Reggae’s Gone Country. Imagine classic country songs such as Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” performed reggae style by some of Jamaica’s best vocalists and musicians. No, this isn’t Kenny Chesney’s latest album of Jimmy Buffet-like island music, but instead it’s a new collection of country standards delivered in a captivating and authentic reggae tribute.

Although the concept may initially sound like a musical recipe for things to go horribly awry, it actually works quite well. After all, commonalities of lost love and spirituality link reggae and country together lyrically. And believe it or not, country music is very popular in Jamaica, which is how and why this album’s concept came to fruition. Reggae’s Gone Country is a labor of love for Grammy nominated producer, VP Records executive, and country music buff Cristy Barber, best known for producing 2003’s successful Def Jamaica, a collection of assorted reggae flavored hip hop tunes.

The bulk of the album was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica’s Grafton and Tuff Gong recording studios by reggae producer Dean Fraser. The tracks were then sent to Nashville, where John Rich supervised flourishes of pedal steel and fiddle which were added into the final mix. The compilation includes standout performances by notable island vocalists Tarrus Riley, Tessanne Chin, Beres Hammond, Etana, and Romain Virgo, among several others.

While traditional country purists will most likely be unimpressed, open-minded, genre leaping music aficionados will be pleasantly surprised. Even if the thought of beloved country hits re-worked into reggae versions may seem absurd to some, the end result is an unexpected and highly satiating combination. Frankly, Reggae’s Gone Country’s reimagined Jamaican versions of George Strait’s “The Chair,” Alabama’s “Feels So Right,” and Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” make any locale feel like paradise.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC

Luke Bryan: ‘Tailgates & Tanlines’

Luke Bryan has been going full steam ahead since he burst onto the country music scene in 2007 with his debut hit “All My Friends Say.” With six Top 10 hits (three of which were No. 1 singles), and two hit albums under his belt, Bryan delivers his third album Tailgates & Tanlines, which solidifies his place among the best of today’s country male vocalists.

Bryan co-wrote eight of the thirteen new tracks with some of Nashville’s most celebrated heavy-hitters (Rhett Akins, Josh Kear, Dallas Davidson), including the hit “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” which has saturated airwaves, becoming Bryan’s fastest-rising single to date. The lead-off track, which surely everyone has heard by now, has prompted country girls to shake it collectively over the long, hot summer.

Bryan’s voice is in peak form and has never sounded better than on the mid-tempo “I Know You’re Gonna Be There,” which is about plucking up the courage to face an ex-lover. “I’m gonna put on my new shirt, shine up these old boots/Take a deep breath, try to keep my cool,” the Georgia native confesses in his endearing and distinctive southern drawl.

“All we do right is make love/And we both know now that ain’t enough,” Bryan sings on the upbeat “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” Written by Bryan with Shane McAnally and album producer Jeff Stevens, this country rocker is a real knockout that sounds ready to burst onto the airwaves and race up the charts.

Tailgates & Tanlines is, for the most part, exactly what the title implies: a soundtrack for fun and sun, along with an instantaneous cure for the summertime blues. However, it’s the moments when Bryan digs deeper, such as on Radney Foster’s emotionally-charged “I Knew You That Way” and the somber “You Don’t Know Jack,” warning against the dangers of alcohol abuse, when he really shines. These brief instants trump the fluffier material and hint at the kind of greatness Bryan is capable of delivering on future albums.

© 2011 ForASong Media, LLC