Review: Revelation by Journey

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I suppose it’s easy to be cynical about Journey and quickly dismiss them as a band of has-beens living off their past glories. But if you take the time to listen to their new release, Revelation , you soon realize that Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain and company actually put together a pretty decent record. OK, Journey isn’t about musical innovation or thought provoking lyrics so if you’re looking for the next Pet Sounds or Sgt. Peppers, this isn’t it. but in the context of the melodic rock genre, Journey’s new album rocks!

Journey is re-born! they really outdid themselves with this new release. check this out, 10 brand new songs, 11 re-recordings of classic Journey hits, 1 re-do of a song from their last album Generations , PLUS a DVD of their recent Las Vegas concert. that’s a lot of material for just $12. and I have to give the guys credit because they essentially could have taken the easy way out and just simply fulfilled WalMart’s request of an album of re-recorded hits. instead, the band put in the extra effort in the limited amount of time on-hand to produce an album’s worth of new music to go along with the re-recordings WalMart wanted. it’s just a great move all around especially with all the renewed interest in the band stemming from the Sopranos finale a year ago and the buzz surrounding the newly appointed lead singer, Arnel Pineda.

The re-recordings are a great reminder of their tremendous back catalog of hits as well as showcases the vocal ability of Pineda. of course these versions will never replace the original Steve Perry led recordings but works simply as a way to show the world the band (and Pineda) can do the old material justice. Revelation proves Pineda’s got a great voice and can sing the hell out of the old classics. it’s a bit of a shame that the re-recordings are a bit lackluster and don’t come close to recapturing the magic of the originals. but treated as the “bonus disc” in the set, it’s acceptable. as for the new material, what can I say? It sounds like Journey! Schon, Cain and producer Kevin Shirley brought their “A” game and came up with an album that can stand up against the others in their catalog. they’ve managed to include just the right amount of rockers, mid-tempo numbers and ballads. and Pineda fits right in like a glove. yes, his phrasing and timing is a bit off-putting at times but in terms of emotion, high-notes and soul, he’s got it right. call me a “soft-ie” but the two key ballads on the album “After All These Years” and “Turn Down the World Tonight” are probably two of the best ballads Schon and Cain have written in their whole careers. they finally figured out the right balance in emotion and melody without becoming too sappy or schmaltzy.

Review: SocialSpark

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Currently there are some various options for bloggers that are interested in earning some extra cash using their blog. the extra cash can come in handy especially when filling up a tank of gas each week takes up to $60 nowadays. the amount that you can make usually depends the popularity of your Livejasmin blog as well as the time and effort that you put in to keep your blog up to date. One avenue that a blogger can take is the paid blogging route. IZEA’s SocialSpark is one of the more popular sites that are geared toward paid blogging and blog advertising.

I’ve been using the service for the past couple months and I have to say that the site is pretty impressive. First off, like most web 2.0 services, there’s a heavy emphasis in social networking. The service give the blogger great potential in connecting with other bloggers with similar interests as well as interacting with advertisers. each member has an accessible profile that displays interests, demographics as well as links to their blogs. this is great for advertisers curious about who is actually writing for them. blog profiles conveniently list out recent posts as well as visitor stats and IZEARanks.

One of the neat things concerning opportunities for bloggers on SocialSpark is their queuing system. If there’s a certain opportunity that recently closed and you feel that your blog is perfect for the listed opportunity, you can add yourself to the queue so that you can be next in line when the advertiser continues with that specific advertising campaign. it’s a nice feature for those bloggers who don’t have to time to hang around the SocialSpark website waiting for opps to drop.

Another nice aspect of SocialSpark is the transparency of it. IZEA understands the sensitive issues surrounding paid blogging and has made major efforts to make the service as transparent as possible. this runs the full spectrum - from upfront disclosure on paid posts down to the specific assignments on SocialSpark being accessible to the general public. that’s right, you don’t even need to be a member of SocialSpark to browse through the site and see all the opportunities available as well as all the bloggers and advertisers that are participating in the service. IZEA has also made the service search engine friendly by allowing “no-follow” tags on all required links. and bloggers, don’t worry about voicing your own opinion on these paid opps. SocialSpark opps won’t require a “positive” tone in your posts. so if you don’t like a certain product or service by an advertiser, no problem, just post your well thought out and honest opinion about it and you’ll still get paid. that’s definitely a good thing in my book.

Now, there still are a few kinks here and there and that’s to be expected since the service is still in beta. the IZEA team are hard at work trying to make SocialSpark the best it can be. All I can say at this point is so far, so good. head on over to SocialSpark to see for yourself.

McCartney mix tape - He’s only human

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There’s no denying that Paul McCartney is a rock legend. He has written countless of songs that will continue to be played and enjoyed for generations to come. Having said that, I also have to point out that he has released some utter crap as well. No one can really say if it’s because of some sort of lack of motivation on his part or sheer vanity in thinking he could shit gold, but the fact remains that he has written just as many duds as there are classics in his jasminlive catalog. so, for today’s RetroBlog mix tape, I thought I’d highlight some of Sir Macca’s lowlights. enjoy.

1) Rockestra Theme - OK, this is actually Duane Eddy’s remake of the Wings song from 1979 with Paul McCartney producing as well as playing on the track. The original song really didn’t merit a remake. It’s a mind-numbingly simple instrumental with the inexplicable vocal line - “Why didn’t I have any dinner?” huh?

2) Press (the Hugh Padgham mix) - McCartney’s 1986 album Press to Play holds a special place in my heart but really, did he actually think this song would be a successful single? come on - “Oklahoma was never like this? oh it was never like this!” groan. Is this really the man that wrote “Yesterday”?

3) Vanilla Sky - this is Macca just being lazy. He ripped off his own minor chord progression from his 1993 single “Biker Like an Icon”. Biker was just plain horrid. and so is this song. I guess Cameron Crowe didn’t have the balls to tell Macca that this song was shit.

4) Spies like Us (the Art of Noise Mix) - ouch. The record label commissioned numerous remixes for this song. obviously they were hoping one of the remixers would know what to do with this song. I think the Art of Noise did a pretty good job considering the source material.

5) Freedom - It was great seeing Macca being so supportive with the rebuilding/healing efforts after 9/11 but he should have spent more time on this song before releasing it. He probably spent less than five minutes writing this lil’ ditty. it’s painful to listen to now.

6) P.S. Love Me Do - yeah, you know dance music and Macca go so well together. not. So recording a dance version of “P.S. I Love You” was an obvious choice, right? right? Bueller? Bueller?

Todd Rundgren - Arena - Album Review

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Album: Arena

Artist: Todd Rundgren

Label: Hi Fi Recordings (U.S.), Cooking Vinyl (U.K.)

Release date: September 30th (U.S.), September 29th (U.K.)

Back in the early nineties, Todd Rundgren once sang about “the old rocking chair” and how it beckoned him “like a junkie’s needle.” Well, thank goodness he never succumbed to that middle-aged temptation. This year, Rundgren has been busier than ever, touring almost non-stop with his own band as well as heading up a Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers tribute tour. He even managed to find time to record his twentieth solo album, Arena , which will be making its way to stores by the end of September. Arena is probably the most accessible sounding record Rundgren has made since the Nearly Human days. It’s essentially the guitar-rock album fans have long been asking for. You’ll find no church-bashing (i.e. Fascist Christ, Mammon), pseudo-rapping (i.e. No World Order, Individualist) or show tunes (i.e. The Smell of Money) here. You’ll even notice simpler chord progressions just by the fact that the songs are guitar-based rather than keyboard-based. So, those typical Rundgren-esque tone-clusters which are normally an integral part of the Rundgren sound aren’t as plentiful although they do pop up now and then like in the middle section of Afraid or the bridge in the song Today. But don’t get me wrong when I say “simpler” chords. This just means that the songs will have a more immediate impact on a wider range of listeners. Hopefully this new accessible version of Rundgren will allow him to reach a larger audience this time around which unfortunately didn’t happen the last go-round with his critically acclaimed Liars album in 2004. As with most of his albums, Rundgren focused his material on a particular concept which, on Arena, is all about conflict and how we (men in particular) react to them. Rundgren was quoted in a recent interview that “this record is more about action. Time for talk is over. Now it’s time to actually do something.”

1. Mad

The album opens with a guitar arpeggio reminiscent of Rundgren’s “Buffalo Grass” but then kicks into a straight ahead rocker a la “Black and White”. “This is more than upset, it’s as enraged as I get and you ain’t seen me mad yet, and now I’m mad!” screams Rundgren in the chorus. His vocal performance is amazing here. Is this man truly 60 years old??!?!!?? The energetic performance on this song is that of a man half his age. it’s awe-inspiring. the song also features a tasty guitar solo that recalls the solo from Utopia’s “The Very Last Time”, which in itself was a nod to Tom Scholz/Boston. sweet. The strong album opener is also the first single off the chaturbate album.

2. Afraid

“Mad” segues right into “Afraid”, one of the more typical “Todd” sounding songs on the album that could have fit right into his previous albums like The Individualist. The highlight is the middle section where Rundgren repeatedly asks “Why suffer for nothing? Suffer for something.” Then the song builds to a nice, restrained David Gilmour-ish guitar solo.

3. Mercenary

The opening metal guitar intro would work perfectly as some wrestler’s theme music on WWE monday night RAW. No one would ever recognize that this is the same dude that came up with “Bang on the Drum”. Rundgren even manages to sound pretty menacing with that Trent Reznor-type distortion on his vocals during the verses. The distortion effect goes away just in time to clearly hear Rundgren scream at the top of his lungs - “How do you like me now that I’ve done your dirty work? How do you like me NOW???” The song is obviously about the Iraq War but Rundgren leaves the door open to let it be just about any type of work being contracted out. You can even take it as some sort of statement about Rundgren’s work with The New Cars, being a “hired gun” and all. OK, that’s stretching it a bit but you get the gist. Oh, and I love the nod to Boston’s “More than a Feeling” in the acoustic-led bridge section. hhmmm, another reference to Boston? Maybe concert promoters should take note of this and somehow arrange a tour package next summer with Rundgren and Boston together? *hint, hint*.

4. Gun

“Gun” just screams ZZ Top with Texas blues riffs galore. Rundgren would say before playing this song at his shows that this is “a FUN song about something really CREEPY”. His stance on gun control is pretty clear with the chorus: “You better run ’cause I’m young, dumb and I’ve got a gun, public idiot number one, ’cause I’m young, dumb and I’ve got a gun!” and the reference to Full Metal Jacket is genius - “This is my rifle, this is my gun, this is for fighting, this is for fun!” and again, another great guitar break in the middle of this song. love it.

5. Courage

There’s a significant shift in the sonic palette once track 5 starts up. With “Courage”, Rundgren channels the 70’s version of himself, complete with jangly acoustic/electric strumming and sugary sweet harmonies. It’s interesting to note that the instrumental intro featuring the flang-y lead guitar seems to be a knowing nod to Moe Berg and the Pursuit of Happiness. A nice change of pace after the first four “heavy” sounding songs.

6. Weakness

“Weakness” is definitely one of the featured tracks on Arena especially after Rundgren dedicated the song to his wife, Michele, when he debuted the song live in Kauai at his 60th birthday bash. The song is a great hybrid of a bluesy guitar-riffed verse (a la Rundgren’s “Mystified”) mashed up with a soaring ballad of a chorus not unlike Rundgren’s “Hawking” (off of Nearly Human). His vocal performance is spectacular here which helps make those clunky superman references in the lyrics go down easier. Unfortunately the weak (yes, had to say it) part about the song is the stiff high-hat that gets pushed to the fore during the verses. It’s too bad Rundgren didn’t get Prairie Prince to overdub the cymbal work on the song because he would have been able to add that extra groove during those sparsely arranged moments in the song.

7. Strike

“Strike” is Rundgren doing his best AC/DC interpretation. There’s not a lot of substance in the lyrics here but it’s a fun song nevertheless with a lot of musical elements added into the pot to keep things interesting. The guitar solo isn’t all that striking (ouch, sorry. it was there.) here but man, that repetitive chorus will burn into your brain and last for days and days. It’s relentless! Listen to Rundgren screaming “Time to STRIKE while the iron is HOT!!” and tell me this guy ain’t 60 years old!!??!!

8. Pissin

“Pissin” is the required novelty track on the album. Rundgren always seems to include one on each of his records. It’s definitely not one of the better songs on Arena but it’s still pretty memorable. I mean, where else are you going to find someone singing the line “and now your dick is in the mayonnaise“??? The modulation into the instrumental section of the song is a nice touch.

9. Today

“Today” sounds almost like a leftover from the Liars sessions with the sequenced keyboard part and the pseudo-techno drum patterns. Here, Rundgren exhorts his listeners to resolve their differences with others, TODAY! It’s a great message and the song is a definite standout on the record.

10. Bardo

“Bardo” has Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs” written all over it. I love the guitar work on this one and the mood that is set here. Rundgren expands on the message from “Today” and brings in a Buddhist concept of transition where you need to confront your own issues in order for you to move on. “You can’t go back from where you came, you must move on and face the flame of the last Bardo.” Rundgren interestingly adds some white noise during the ending guitar solo to create some tension a la the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s so Heavy)”.

11. Mountaintop

Rundgren has already stated that he would love “Mountaintop” to replace “Bang on the Drum” as a sporting event favorite. and it has potential with the ever so catchy “higher-higher” refrain during the chorus. Rundgren uses an interesting reverb effect on his vocals (during the verses) as well as on the bass drum that kind of recalls John Lennon’s use of the echo effect on songs like “Instant Karma”. The reverb effect on the bass drum is particularly distracting for me. I’m not sure if the general audience will pick up on it but since I’m a drummer, I notice it. basically, the digital delay on the bass drum is not in time with the overall tempo. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not but it sure is distracting.

12. Panic

“Panic” is a great song that recalls both Rundgren’s “Yer Fast” and Utopia’s “Itch in My Brain”. Probably one of my favorites at the moment. His sense of humor shines through with lines like: “The zombies awake but it won’t help to panic… your boner goes soft but it don’t help to panic… and you just made a stinky…” classic!! heh.

13. Manup

“Manup” is a strong closer. It pretty much sums up what Rundgren wants us all to do which is essentially to stop our complaining, get up off our asses and do something! The ending guitar solo is sweet but stops short. In fact most of the guitar solos on the album are short and concise but as he has mentioned in previous interviews, that’s how Rundgren views “Arena rock”: very melodic with big hooks and concise to the point guitar solos. I would have given him more leeway with the guitar solos but that’s just me. - Overall Sound - If you’re familiar with Rundgren’s output over the last decade then you basically know how he operates in terms of recording his albums. Arena was essentially recorded with protools on his macbook utilizing programmed/sequenced bass and drum tracks, virtual guitar amp emulators, etc. Personally I would have preferred real drums over the “canned” drum sounds but that just might be the drummer side of me talking. Those sampled drum sounds just don’t give songs like “Mercenary”, “Strike” and “Mountaintop” the visceral power they need to take ‘em over the top, you know what I mean? Aside from the guitars, the “virtual band” made some of the songs sound a bit more restrained than I would have liked. Not really sure if it was a time or budget limitation but I suppose that’s Todd’s call and who am I to argue, right? And I guess, in the overall scheme of things, the sound of the record isn’t as important as the songs themselves. As long as the songs are well written it really doesn’t matter how their recorded. Just take the timeless Beatles catalog as one example of that. And it’s safe to say with these 13 songs on Arena , Rundgren delivers! It’s definitely the perfect follow up to his 2004 Liars album. Oh, and for those of us sticklers that still grumble over the use of drum machines and such, Rundgren’s got us covered by bundling the new album with a DVD and CD of Rundgren’s live performance of the new album from the July 14th Boulder Theater show. So the packaged bundle sounds like a great deal. Look for it in stores beginning September 30th.

It seems that the production company responsible for the live DVD wasn’t able to finish the project in time to get it bundled with the initial release of the CD. So fans will have to decide on either purchasing the CD-only release at the end of september or wait for the DVD/CD combo which will be released later in the year (no word on an actual date for the combo release). I suppose Todd Fans will pick up both and I’m sure that’s what HI FI Recordings will be counting on so they could essentially “double-dip” their product.

Journey with Cheap Trick and Heart

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People tend to be a bit wary of all the “packaged tours” that end up at the sheds each summer. And I totally understand it because typically they’re made up of has-been 80’s bands who are way past their prime. And I’m sure in some people’s minds, the Cheap Trick/Heart/Journey triple bill could be lumped with the rest of ‘em. Call it what you want - 80’s nostalgia, a blast from the past, whatever. But last night in Raleigh, the three bands truly rocked the lil’ ol’ amphitheater and the nearly sold out crowd (including me) enjoyed every minute of it.

Cheap Trick probably got the toughest job on the tour, playing to a half-filled house at 7pm each night. With the sun still blaring on their faces, the band blasted through their set just like they always do. Unfortunately their set was marred by a muddy sound mix. But Cheap Trick is a class act and they delighted their fans with stellar versions of “If You Want My Love”, “I Want You to Want Me”, “Surrender” and “Dream Police”. I always get a kick out of seeing Rick Neilsen’s unique collection of guitars. Felt a little sorry for his guitar tech though - tuning and maintaining all those guitars each and every night must be a bitch. Robin Zander’s vocals sounded strong for the most part but still has a tough time with “The Flame”. Even performing it tuned down a couple steps, Zander couldn’t cleanly hit that last high note in the song. It was spectacularly cringe-worthy. Other than that, CT’s set was pretty flawless. Oh, and Ross Valory (of Journey) came out in the middle of CT’s set to yell “these guys ROCK!” to an unsure crowd who were all probably wondering “who’s that old man?” heh.

Heart nailed their set last night. Definitely made them a HARD act to follow. By the time they got on stage, the place was pretty much full and raring to go. Ann and Nancy Wilson proved once again that they could rock just as good (or even better) as the rest of the boys on the bill. They played a nice mix of their 70’s and 80’s hits plus a Who and Led Zep cover. And yes, Ann Wilson is singing the songs in a lower key but it doesn’t really matter in this case because she belts these out like no one else can! If there were any wine glasses around that night, they would have been shattered by the time Ann hit that otherworldly vocal run in “Alone”. wow! She is amazing. Oh and Nancy got her time in the spotlight with a nice acoustic guitar solo before the start of “Crazy on You”. plus, she still does those high kicks that we all know and love.

And how do you follow that? It’d be tough for ANY band to keep that level of momentum going. Journey stumbles a bit at the beginning with singer Arnel Pineda not quite hitting the high notes on the set opener “Never Walk Away”. But the band quickly recovers and get things back up to fever pitch by the time they hit “Only the Young” and “Stone in Love”. I’m sure the band tries to keep things “fresh” for themselves by mixing up their setlist every night but at times the sequencing seems so random. There’s an art to building a setlist and last night’s set didn’t have that great of a flow. For example, they followed Separate Ways with Rubicon and then went straight into two new songs off of Revelation, “Change for the Better” and “Wildest Dreams”. Talk about a momentum killer. But odd sequencing choices aside, the band was phenomenal. Neal Schon, Ross Valory, Deen Castronovo and Jonathan Cain are spectacular players and all the musicians in the crowd were most likely slack-jawed in awe of their skill. Schon and Castronovo were especially amazing to watch.

Going into the show I was a bit worried that Pineda’s voice would show signs of the wear and tear of the road but Pineda was in fine form after the initial hiccup at the start of the set. Pineda was up and down the stage, dancing, jumping and shaking hands with those up in front. He was a bundle of energy and definitely brought new life into these old favorites. I’m not so sure performing “Escape” and “Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin” for the encore is the smartest choice in terms of keeping the interest of a huge crowd but all in all I had a blast seeing the newly reborn Journey with Pineda at the helm. It’s a strong show and definitely well worth seeing if it comes near your neck of the woods.

Eric Clapton – Roger Daltrey – RBC Center review

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Eric Clapton stopped by The RBC Center in Raleigh this past monday to rush through his 16-song set and to completely ignore his fans. Yes, I know, Clapton is known for his lack of stage banter but come on, throw us a bone every now and then. The arena was pretty much filled to capacity, the least he could have done was acknowledge that we were there and maybe even say the name of the town he was in. He honestly looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but here. Clapton fans would argue that he lets the music speak for itself but the living legend just seemed to be going through the motions, literally on autopilot the whole night. No spark of inspiration nor glimmer of enthusiasm were evident at this particular show. Another tell tale sign was Clapton plowing through song after song without pausing to allow the audience to give him some applause. weird. He was pretty much the same way when I last saw him live back on his Journeyman tour but his disinterest and disengagement seemed more pronounced this time around.

But having said all that, I have to say that the man is a guitar legend and I’m still glad I got to see the show. Clapton has a stellar band with him including Steve Gadd on drums and Willie Weeks on bass. Ya can’t go wrong there. And he also performed one of my all time favorites, “Old Love” that featured a nice extended solo. Other moments during the set that featured some tasty guitar work included “I Shot the Sheriff”, “Little Queen of Spades” and “Before You Accuse Me”.

As for Roger Daltrey, I wasn’t expecting much from him after seeing the poor half-time performance by The Who during this year’s superbowl. But surprisingly, Daltrey did a fantastic job and really got the crowd going. He was the total opposite of Clapton: engaging with the crowd, making a few jokes here and there and he genuinely seemed happy to be on stage. He had a well paced set with highlights like “Who Are You”, “Gimme a Stone”, “Young Man Blues” and of course, “Baba O’Riley”.