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Mike Ragogna

Mike Ragogna

Posted: June 29, 2009 04:46 AM

New Tunes On Monday: George Harrison, Rob Thomas, Among The Oak & Ash, and Survivor (Kind Of) Plays Jeremy's Wedding


George Harrison - Let It Roll/Songs By George Harrison

By the time most of us heard George Harrison sing the words "Give me love, give me love, give me peace on earth," we already knew he was operating from a higher place. During his time with The Beatles, we witnessed the musician exploring the Self, writing and recording "cosmic" songs such as "Within You, Without You," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and positive anthems like "Here Comes The Sun." But after his tenure with the Fab Four, solo outings like "My Sweet Lord," "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)," "Isn't It A Pity" and "All Things Must Pass" showed Harrison delving even deeper spiritually. He became more teacher than Beatle, using his accrued celebrity to spread something more meaningful than what usually was confined to the three minute pop song. And even when we heard his subtler hits like "What Is Life" on the radio, its meaning transcended that of simple love song to something more profound due to its vibe and implied bigger message. His two Madison Square Garden concerts for the relief of displaced refugees of East Pakistan (The Concert For Bangladesh) became our introduction to the concept of "aid" events, and for a time, George Harrison was one of the West's best touchstones to the East, with Ravi Shankar and Krishna in tow (actually, more like the other way around). And that's just the early years.

The new collection Let It Roll/Songs By George Harrison is going to thrill those waiting for an album that combines his solo Apple recordings with Beatles titles and tracks from the Dark Horse years. It's going to disappoint anyone expecting a Greatest Hits package, but that isn't what this project is about. Played top to bottom, it represents more of the man's journey than his commercial hits, gathering his earliest signature songs through his last, posthumous album, and it should be appreciated as a great sounding musical experience, not as a sonic encyclopedia. It gathers almost all of the above songs (obviously, not "Within You, Without You"), including Beatles-era material (presented as live solo outings from the three LP box set The Concert For Bangladesh), plus Dark Horse hits, and final recordings from his last album, Brainwashed.

The ...Bangladesh tracks shine as brightly as any of the studio recordings. The superstar cast of the live "While My Guitar..." featured Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and Ringo Starr, though an equally fine solo acoustic version of "Here Comes The Sun" spotlights the lone Harrison. The live "Something" completes the Beatles catalog, and there is a large helping of five tracks from Harrison's other multi-disc box set, All Things Must Pass (including "Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)," from which we get part of this assembly's title). From the Dark Horse years, there is his tribute to John Lennon, "All Those Years Ago"; his reflections on all things Beatles, "When We Was Fab"; of course, the very popular "Got My Mind Set On You" and "Cheer Down"; and the Brainwashed tracks are "Rising Sun" (practically a spiritual doctrine), "Any Road," and the terrific slide instrumental, "Marwa Blues," a perfect example of Harrison's mastery of his instrument. Overall, George Harrison and Beatles fans should rejoice over this album, it showing the artist at his best in almost every song. And as far as the MIA "Crackerbox Palace" (perhaps the most sing-songy single of his career), "This Song" (apparently about Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" lawsuit) and "Bangla-Desh" (from whose parent album we get three terrific Beatles-oriented songs), the world won't stop turning because they didn't make the collection. This album explores the artist's evolution, not his chart numbers. So put it on, let it roll, and enjoy some amazing songs by George Harrison.

Tracks:
1. Got My Mind Set On You
2. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)
3. Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)
4. My Sweet Lord
5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - Live
6. All Things Must Pass
7. Any Road
8. This Is Love
9. All Those Years Ago
10. Marwa Blues
11. What Is Life
12. Rising Sun
13. When We Was Fab
14. Something - Live
15. Blow Away
16. Cheer Down
17. Here Comes The Sun - Live
18. I Don't Want Want To Do It
19. Isn't It A Pity


Rob Thomas - Cradlesong

A couple years ago, Rob Thomas was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame and was presented with its first Hal David Starlight Award, an acknowledgment of excellence by the "up-and-coming" in the field. (FYI, he ripped playfully into Jason Mraz for having too much talent while presenting him the same award at this year's ceremony). With Cradlesong, Thomas lives up to the promise, offering a collection of addictive, excellently-crafted songs in what actually does feel like a solo album, not some Matchbox Twenty variant. In the opening track and first single, "Her Diamonds," the artist laments that he can no longer handle his partner's pathos ("...her tears like diamonds on the floor...I can't take these diamonds falling down...), and the track's rhythmic turbulence keeps pace with Thomas' search for the exit. "Gasoline" is built on many structures from other decades like its playful, Dolby-esque synths and whammied guitar chords that support the close-mic'd Cars-meets-"Moonlight Feels Right" vocals, and its chorus's hook takes a tight turn around Gin Blossoms Lane and Toad The Wet Sprocket Boulevard. Actually, Thomas repeats that trip a few more times, but this is a good place to revisit, both groups having handled melody and payoff choruses successfully a time or twelve.

Like most good albums, all of Cradlesong's tracks are memorable for at least one fun production element and/or lyrical payoff, such as "Give Me The Meltdown"'s sync-d band freeze on "feel the world spinnin round and round and round," or the reverse revelation in one of the album's best tracks, "Mockingbird" (that if their relationship won't sing, then "maybe we ain't meant for this love..."). Thomas tackles "Real World '09" issues in that song, initially singing, "Hey yeah, welcome to the real world, nobody told me it was gonna be this hard...I've only started, now I'm fallin' apart"; and the apocalyptic, semi-rocker "Fire On The Mountain" asks, "how do you sleep while the city's burning, where do you go when you can't go home, how do you drink when there's blood in the water, where do you turn when the world moves on?"

In the protagonist-as-a-mess column, we have "Hard On You" in which we get his redeemable shopping list of faults, as in "...sometimes I get lost in my blue, please forgive me if I'm hard on you," "maybe the best is the worst I can do with you" and "I fall apart 'cause it's the only thing I know." "Still Ain't Over You" presumably reveals what happened to that relationship throughout its minor-keyed, break-up masochism, and another potential single, "Snow Blind," tells us, "I think we're snow blind, we've had a hard time and we can't see where we are, spending our whole lives walking the same lines, and it doesn't seem to stop." Overall, the album is juiced by its undercurrent of electronics, its soulful, female group vocals, simple production, and Thomas' intuitive, almost relentless pop approach. After three quarters of the album passes, you do get the feeling that he could write songs in his sleep since this album's originals leave no hook behind. It's no surprise the Songwriters Hall Of Fame inducted Rob Thomas, probably betting on his writing monster hits for acts ranging from American Idol winners and losers to Coldplay (not likely on the latter...but maybe a co-write?).

Tracks:
1. Her Diamonds
2. Gasoline
3. Give Me The Meltdown
4. Someday
5. Mockingbird
6. Real World '09
7. Fire On The Mountain
8. Hard On You
9. Still Ain't Over You
10. Natural
11. Snow Blind
12. Wonderful
13. Cradlesong
14. Getting Late


Among The Oak & Ash - Among The Oak & Ash

When Philadelphia's band The Hooters had their string of hits in the '80s, most were unaware that they were listening to a folk hybrid, one that was energized by rock, syncopated by ska, and elevated by pop radio. Eric Bazilian's and Rob Hyman's act might have been famous for only a couple of minutes, but it did manage to re-introduce the somewhat ignored genre to the masses through wordy video hits like "All You Zombies," "And We Danced," "Day By Day," and even folkier amalgams like "Where Do The Children Go" (with guest Patty Smyth) and "500 Miles" (with guests Peter, Paul & Mary). A couple years later, Lauren Agnelli's, Tom Goodkind's and Bruce Jay Paskow's The Washington Squares perfectly mimicked Peter, Paul & Mary with modest commercial success, though Tracy Chapman and Bruce Hornsby were the genre's least folkish, most successful, de facto champions, coming very close to the category with a "singer-songwriter" status (though one could never brand them as "folkies"). With the relatively recent success of acts like acoustic, singer-songwriter, John Mayer, the door was left open for some of the actual genre's best to assert themselves commercially, such as Alison Krauss with her award-winning duet album with Robert Plant, or acts like Nickel Creek.

There is another smart act now vying for your attention and folk dollars. Donning their best Fairport Convention meets Ian & Sylvia (if they were born in the eighties), Josh Joplin's and Garrison Starr's Among The Oak & Ash contributes to the field with a self-titled, debut album that is very charming through all its tradi-tragedies. The pair mostly vocalizes in unison on some of folk's most famous, morbid lullabys, like "Angel Gabriel" (sounding less like a spiritual than an Americana anthem), "Peggy-O" (rocking harder than Simon & Garfunkel might condone), and song-bios on Hiram Hubbard (with its brilliant Peter Gabirel's "Biko" meets Melanie Safka's "The Actess" arrangement), and Joseph Hillström (a Joplin original on the plight of "Joe Hill"). "A lot of people think of folk music as something that's sweet and gentle, but so many of these songs are raunchy and brutal," Joplin stated in a recent press release. "These songs are about the human condition, and that's something that doesn't change."

An intelligent sequence finds Joplin's a cappella "Pretty Saro" introducing "All The Pretty Little Horses" which then slides into Starr's fifty second take on "Come All You Young And Tender Ladies," thus setting-up the album's clever, unlabeled trilogy on heartbreak. "The Water Is Wide" features simple, organic instrumentation that accompanies singer Starr's deeply involved but understated delivery; and Joplin's original "High, Low & Wide" becomes the album's commentary and conclusion on all of its prior era'd intensity that also mirrors our times: "I am but a shadow cast upon the road and we are all but strangers bearing a heavy load." In other reviews, this album's material has been called "brutal folk," but what Joplin and Starr created here goes beyond that, supplying a needed kick to a genre that, so often, has been reduced to little more than a "Kumbaya" punch line. Wouldn't it be interesting if folk punched back with a few more albums like Among The Oak & Ash.

Tracks:
1. Hiram Hubbard
2. Peggy-O
3. Angel Gabriel
4. Shady Grove
5. The Water Is Wide
6. The Housewife's Lament
7. Pretty Saro
8. All The Pretty Little Horses
9. Come All You Young & Tender Ladies
10. Joseph Hillström 1879-1915
11. That Long & Lonesome Road
12. High, Low & Wide


Survivor (Kind Of) - Live At Jeremy's Wedding

Immediately following the cake cutting ceremony at New Jersey's recent Bridgewater Manor marriage of the very lovely Angelique Devlin and the dashing Jeremy Holiday, the unsuspecting well-wishers were given something just a bit sweeter than sugary icing--a surprise appearance by Jimi Jamison and Dave Bickler in what was the very first joint vocal performance by the pair of Survivors. The gawking crowd timidly stayed seated until Jamison informed the reception hall, "Come out and dance with your girls...if you don't, I will!" and with that, the bride and groom, already grooving center court, were joined by their friends and family, still stunned that such a musical coup had been pulled off. (For that poor handful who don't know, Bickler--the producer/writer of those wiseass Budweiser toasts--sang on the early hits; Jamison--coming off his new album Crossroads Moment--followed Bickler.) In the "But Wait...There's More!" category, another Survivor alumnus, Jim Peterik, wrote and recorded songs for the occasion, penning the lovely "Ever Since The World Began" and "Forever In A Day," immortalized on CD and distributed by the couple to their cherished guests as their party favor.

Now, why would such an amazing conjunction take place for a wedding (Jamison having flown hundreds of miles for the occasion)? Ah, this was no run-of-the-mill hitching. These entertainers gathered to pay tribute to two uniquely beautiful people, and one especially talented A&R guy. Jeremy Holiday, working behind the scenes with his bosses at Sony Legacy, helped with the release of hundreds of projects over these last few years. The artists love him because he is dedicated to keeping a project's integrity intact and their interests front and center, and his bosses love him because they recognize that he not only knows his music, but is practically the living embodiment of it, someone who has dedicated himself completely to the field. Though I resist using the first person in any of my pieces, I have to in this case because I am extremely proud of my twice-time protégé who accompanied me on part of my own A&R journeys as I traveled from company to company. As the A&R field continues to play musical chairs, hopefully a talent such as Jeremy's always will be recognized, making him a true survivor in this music biz's next configuration. Good luck on all your future musical adventures, Jeremy (especially the Hall & Oates box set), and God bless you and Angelique...

Tracks:
The Search Is Over
I Can't Hold Back
High On You
Eye Of The Tiger (what, you thought they wouldn't play that?)

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