Part Eleven: 120-111
Almost halfway through the countdown and I’m already wondering what the purpose of these little intro paragraphs is supposed to be.
120. Emerson Hart – “Hurricane”
As the vocalist for Tonic, Emerson Hart has been the man behind a number of my favorite songs and albums of the late 90’s/early 00’s, including “If You Could Only See”, which for years was my #1 karaoke go-to song. His voice and songwriting just carries me places that I wish I knew how to otherwise get to, so it’s no surprise that I’d latch onto his solo material once Tonic hit the skids. The sound is obviously dead-on with that of his previous band, although I suppose the guitars are toned down just a bit. Meanwhile this song is a classic example of what his music does to me, starting with a simple keyboard/acoustic bed and then building and layering until its suddenly soaring above everything, sending my soul off into a better place. Over-stated? Maybe. Some artists just hit me in the exact right way and this guy is one of them.
119. Fight The Fade – “Ignition”
Fight The Fade are another one of those bands with a sound I love… right up until the vocalist decides to go all aggro/emo and growl his way through 1/3 of any given song. Vocalist Zene Smith has way too good a voice to throw it away on such nonsense as often as he does (it can be effective in choice moments), which is why this track leaps out at me as strongly as it does, Smith keeping the shouts to a minimum. Their sound is VERY reminiscent of Linkin Park, paying close to attention to creating sonic landscapes complete with digital splashes on top of a gritty, pop/rock hybrid. This is the music of a generation of rockers that came after me, and I thank my lucky stars that I’m not yet too much of an old man to appreciate them without whining about “them damn kids”.
118. Jackson Browne – “Leaving Winslow”
I always liked Jackson Browne when I was growing up and would hear the occasional track on classic rock radio (“Running On Empty” being the most frequent) and became obsessed with the live version of “The Load Out/Stay” for a while in my late teen years. When he made his “comeback” in 1993 with his post-Darryl Hannah break-up album I’m Alive, I became an unabashed fan. I savored his 90’s “adult contemporary” output while also going back and really digging into some of his back catalogue. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited his 2014 release Standing In The Breach. Sadly, in a year with so much new music to sample, the album never got the attention from me that it deserved. I liked it quite a bit and still go back to it from time to time, but I have yet to really absorb it fully. But this track, a complete throwback to the JB of the late 70’s, complete with steel guitar and laid back shuffle, totally warms my heart. Like a lot of artists who go through a mid-life crisis phase of introspection, he’s come out the other side a little wiser and once again embracing more worldly subjects without being as in-your-face political as he once had been. Meanwhile, I just love his voice and his sound, regardless of what he has to say.
117. Big Wreck – “Come What May”
Canadian rockers Big Wreck’s last album, 2012’s Albatross, produced by my favorite album and 2nd favorite song of that year (the title track). Prior to that I had never heard of them despite a decade of activity prior to it, which just goes to show how much the internet has changed the way I listen to music. So obviously I was pretty pumped when they announced a new album for 2014, even if I was secretly worried it wouldn’t live up to Albatross’ immensely high standard (seriously; when that album hits my car stereo it can make three or four full rotations before I take it out). Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint, as Ghosts will probably be among my top 5 albums at year end even if it doesn’t quite hit #1. This will be the first of a handful of tracks on the countdown, the band starting off with a very Foo Fighterish intro and rhythm guitar section, under Ian Thornley’s husky Chris Cornell-like vocals. Thornley, the band’s clear leader as vocalist and main guitarist, is probably my favorite songwriter currently going. Each song seems to have some little dynamic or tweak that catches my ear and this is no exception.
116. Unisonic – “For The Kingdom”
Unisonic is a German metal supergroup, built around the vocal stylings of former Helloween lead throat Michael Kiske. On the band’s second album he is joined by former bandmate, guitarist Kai Hansen, and together they with guitarist Mandy Meyer (a bit of a metal vagabond) and a rock solid rhythm section of bassist Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou, deliver a highly melodic form of Euro metal, scaling back a bit on the OTT histrionics of their previous work to create something a little more radio friendly (even though it’ll never get airplay in the current American climate). Kiske has peaked as a vocalist, finally finding material that suits his air raid siren heights without forcing him to try and be heavier than he’s really capable. He is very much a vocalist in control of his instrument, which I wouldn’t have always said about him. Behind him the band builds a furious track that never overpowers even while it blazes ahead. A great song (and album) for fans of old school 80’s metal that has matured nicely.
115. Reverend & The Makers – “The Only One”
Normally I would rebel against this kind of 80’s-style Eurotrash/synth pop/dance rock/whatever-you-call-it. When Depeche Mode did it I was completely turned off, so I have no earthly explanation why I like this song as much as I do, other than to say it’s ridiculously catchy and expertly crafted. In fact, the band’s entire album has found its way into my listening rotation despite being totally outside of my comfort zone, which either means it’s a better than average representation of the genre or I’m just getting soft in my old age. Either way, I dig it, and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.
114. Judah & The Lion – “Rich Kids”
A second entry for bluegrass pop-rockers Judah & The Lion, following in the footsteps of the slightly more classic rock sounding “Water” back at #187. This song is much more aggressively hillbilly sounding, with the combination of banjo, mandolin and accordion driving the bulk of the song while the “simple things in life are all that matters” lyrics hammer home the idea that it’s more about who you are than where you come from. These guys are extraordinary musicians with a worldly sound, which surprises me given how young they look. Yeah, I’m more than a little jealous.
113. Flyleaf – “Set Me On Fire”
I first discovered Flyleaf back in 2013 while I was deep into my fascination with Paramore and started seeking out similar acts. At the time I found them, Flyleaf was going through a change in vocalist, with Lacey Sturm being replaced by Missourian Kristen May. They introduced May with a quickie live EP, Who We Are, that featured an insanely catchy song called “Something Better” which landed at #27 on my year-end countdown last year. Now they’re back with the first May-led full length, Between The Stars. The first single, “Set Me On Fire” rocks a little harder than “Something Better” did, but that’s always okay with me, and I really love the way May has layered harmonies on top of herself (although good luck repeating that trick live). The trend of merging female vocalists with rockin’ bands has been one my favorite musical developments of the last ten years, so I’m eating this kind of stuff up with a spoon. Keep it coming, ladies.
112. The Wind & The Wave – “With Your Two Hands”
The Wind & The Wave are back for entry #2 on the countdown, once again winning me over with their stripped back rockabilly meets angsty folk (is that even a thing?). Vocalist Patricia Lynn Drew seems to never have a misstep as a singer and her style fits absolutely perfectly over the song’s shit kicking acoustic stomp. I would love to see them on a double bill with the aforementioned Judah & The Lion for a night of high energy folk rock. And oh yes, they’ll be back again.
111. Silvertide – “Try Try Try”
If I told you this song was an outtake from the Black Crowes recording sessions for Shake Your Money Maker, would you really question it? It’s damn near plagiarism, except for the fact that the Crowes were merely aping a sound that the likes of the Faces and the Rolling Stones had already perfected. Just glorious, swinging, slide guitar-rampaging, southern rock n’ roll. So of course they’re from Pennsylvania. The band released a totally overlooked and hard rockin’ album back in 2004 with Show And Tell (featuring the stomper “Mary Jane”) before slowly splintering over the next handful of years and essentially calling it quits. They reappeared last year with this lone single, testing the waters for a return that has apparently gone well enough that rumors of a full-length in 2015 are now taking real traction, which is fine by me, as one album of this band’s hard rockin’ blues wasn’t nearly enough.
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