Thursday, October 28, 2010

For Those Who Wait

Canadians are not Vampires, at least that's what the members of Manic Drive would have us believe. I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Last Friday the For Those Who Wait Tour came to Central Massachusetts and this blogger and about 500 other concert goers enjoyed an ear shattering head banging extravaganza that will not be soon forgotten.

The Venue was the Liberty Assembly of God in Shrewsbury, MA, a 1000 seat mega-church Just off Route 20 in the heart of the Commonwealth.  It looked pretty much like a traditional New England Church from the outside. On the inside, the high cathedral ceiling complete with 3 humongous front projection HDTV screens and a hybrid padded seat front/traditional padded pew rear and theater style stage seemed to scream mega church. My only complaint to the venue? The official capacity of the sanctuary was 990?! Could Ye Not Have Found Ten More Seats? (Sorry for slipping into King James Version). As I said, I estimate the final crowd at about 500. I was pleased, if only that, If I didn't check iTickets for free downloads every week I may have never known about this event. The promoter, New Sound Concerts, despite being the force behind the immensely popular Summer festival Soulfest, never seems to promote concerts to the best of their ability, with the result that they barely fill small venues.  Flood the zone with ads, posters, and promotional materials and we could fill the DCU Center. We'll never know if we don't try.

Manic Drive was first to take the stage. A pretty basic rock and roll band out of Toronto started by brothers Shawn (Lead Vocals, Keys, Guitar) and Michael (Guitar, Backing Vocals) were introduced via a 5 minute Twilight Parody selling the members as Vampires. "Their skin was pale and cold, and they avoided the sunlight." I think that can pretty much sum up all Canadians, especially those from Montreal and Toronto with their underground cities. Later they reassured the audience that they weren't really vampires, they just really hated the movie Twilight.  They did a four song set, of which I couldn't recognize a single song.  That's really no surprise, since I only really know their song Blue, and they didn't do that one.

After a ten minute intermission things got kicked into high gear with Group 1 Crew, a Rap/Dance group out of Orlando, Florida. Think Black Eyed Peas but Saved. Almost all the songs came from the current release Outta Space Love, which was their opening song. We all tried to get our gangsta lean on with the song Live it Up. I think they were kinder than we were successful. It was fun. And Vocalist Bianca Reyes really got to shine with Walking on the Stars. Not only a good rapper Manwell Reyes (no relation to Bianca) is also a pretty good comedian, after the set he did a unusual appeal for World Vision, bringing in Redbox, Movie Theatres, Geico, Kool Aid and American Idol into a passionate appeal. I don't know if the results were any better this way, but it made the appeal more palatable. It sure beats the typical "while you enjoyed that last song twenty million children died of hunger you selfish brats" appeal. I am new to the hip hop/rap style of CCM, DC Talk excepted, but it is definitely a favorite of mine these days. For my review of Outta Space Love click here.

After a 15 minute intermission Fireflight took the stage to the piercing cry "This is for those who wait."I have been a fan of Fireflight since Unbreakable came out in 2008, but this is the first time I have seen them Live. I knew they were loud, but...Every time drummer Phee Shorb struck the drums the building shook as if from an explosion. Lead Vocalist Dawn Michele orchestrated the 15 song set with nary a break for introductions. Most of the songs were done medley style, though, unlike a traditional medley, the complete song was sung. Also unlike most bands, they did songs from each of their three albums. Eight of the songs were from For Those Who Wait, five were from Unbreakable, and two were from The Healing of Harms. Also this reviewer noticed a nice homage that probably passed unnoticed except by me and a few of the parents in the audience. During several songs Dawn Michele, flanked by guitarists Justin Cox and Glenn Dennen orchestrated what I would best describe as Synchronized headbanging, where the guitarists would dip their guitars and heads Stage Left and Dawn, sans guitar, would match their movements. I have not seen this done since 80's supergroup Mylon LeFevre and Broken Heart invented it. It was a nice touch. Wendy Dennen, Glenn's wife, plays Bass and rounds out the quintet.

Except for styles like Metal-core, I have always considered Skillet to be one of, if not the, hardest and loudest rock bands out there in the CCM world.  Having heard the CD's I had placed Fireflight alongside an Audio Adrenaline.  Now, I think they are more of a Heavy Metal band, at least an 80's style like Whitecross. Still, they did slow it down once, for Name, a heart rending ballad that really showcases Dawn Micheles beautiful voice. The original set was 14 songs. When the audience began to chant "one more song", Fireflight, literalists that they are, came out for one more song. Fortunately for the audience it was Unbreakable. Having their two most famous songs bookend their set was fitting for a concert that spanned their entire career so far. For Those Who Wait made my list this year for a Platinum Vinyl Award for Best Rock Album and is a strong contender for Album of the Year. My live experience only confirmed my opinions about the album. I expect to hear a lot more form this band in the future. I waited a long time for Fireflight to come to New England for a concert, and the the saying is definitely true, good things come "For those who Wait."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Great Cable TV Bailout

DTV was sold as the greatest revolution in Television Broadcasting, but, in fact, it's a scam. This shouldn't surprise anyone, the digital mandate was Washington's idea.

Maybe scam is too harsh, but, based on my experience, it sure seems like it, and I'm in a Major Market area. Before the June 12, 2009 transition, with the help of only an indoor HDTV capable antenna, I could easily receive the analog signals of the local ABC affiliate, the CBS affiliate, and two NBC affiliates plus the Univision and Daystar affiliates.  With effort, I was also able to pull in the local analog signal for FOX. After I acquired a LCD Television I started to scan for digital signals, and I managed to pick up two digital PBS signals, the CBS DTV, the ABC DTV, 2 Univision DTV Signals and 4 Digital ION signals. I was ecstatic. DTV was indeed heaven.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lift Up Your Face.....And Move

Very rarely is an album the subject of heated debate before it even hits the shelves, but such is the case in the era of live streaming and iTunes and Amazon downloads. One such question has recently popped up in music forums, which is better Jars of Clay The Shelter or Third Day Move. I will answer the question definitively by saying: WRONG QUESTION. No, I am not evading the question, merely refocusing it. Third Day and Jars of Clay are two entirely different kinds of bands. It's kind of like saying which is better Katy Perry or Sandi Patty. More appropriately there would be two similar questions, which I will pose here. Question 1-Which is better The Shelter or Raising Up The Dead by Caedmon's Call. Question 2-Which is better Move or Horseshoes and Handgrenades by Disciple.  Those in the first category fall in the Folk Rock category and in the second the Hard Rock category, though Disciple is somewhat harder than Third Day, both seem to fit nicely into the Southern Rock/70's Rock mold. My answers? For Question 1- Hands Down The Shelter, though with the caveat that I have not heard the entire Caedmon's Call album. The answer for Question 2? Let's just say that the Platinum Vinyl Awards for Rock is getting quite interesting. The answer will be revealed soon.

History Repeating Itself

While taking a walk yesterday I saw a political sign that took me down Memory Lane. Not too far, just a few blocks, the equivalent of four years. During the 2006 Election Campaign there was a Senate Race between a RINO by the name of Lincoln Chafee and a Democrat by the name of Sheldon Whitehouse. Since George W. Bush was the President the Democrat candidate launched the usual Bush Derangement Syndrome induced slander about "the first honest Whitehouse in Washington."  Since Chafee was a RINO from a family of RINO's his campaign was "I hate Bush even more than the Democrat." The voters of Rhode Island, when given the choice between a True Democrat and a Fake Democrat went with the True Democrat, and Sheldon Whitehouse was elected. All that changed was the name and the letter after it. Chafee rarely voted as a Republican and after he lost he quickly became a Democrat.

Fast forward four years. The Democrats took over on January 3, 2007 and drove our country, not into a ditch, but over a cliff. An unemployment rate of 4% is now actually somewhere around 17% and our debt and deficit has skyrocketed. The truth is that all spending originates in the House, or as the saying goes "Congress controls the purse strings." The truth hurts. Pelosi and Reed are not Republicans.

Now to that sign. It was for my State Representative to Congress.  That's Beacon Hill not Washington. He's a Democrat (big surprise, it's Massachusetts), but his flyer said he voted against the Gas Tax, The Income Tax, The Hotel Tax, The Alcohol Tax and the Temporary seat holder in the U.S. Senate between Kennedy's death and Scott Brown being sworn in. It seems the tide has turned, now Liberal Democrats are saying, "Hey I'm  more conservative than the Republican." Here's to the hope that on November 2, the voters, when given the choice between a Fake Republican and a True Republican, vote for the True Republican, and not a DIRC (Democrat in Republican Clothing)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Heat is On: TBSF Summer 2010-The Best of The Rest

Due to a lack of qualified entries this Summer I have decided to combine the genres of Gospel/R&B, Folk/Folk Rock, and new entry Kids into one for posting purposes.  My lower limit for separate entry is three, and at most they have two entries. (If you read my previous TBSF blogs in July you know my Folk/Folk Rock genre only had two entries.  I know that, and this is the reason for the new rule.)

The Gospel/R&B entry, yes entry, is Triumphant by Vashawn Mitchell (D) and yes, the only entry just happens to be a new artist debut and is also eligible for Best New Artist.

The Folk/Folk Rock genre produced two entries during the Summer:
And finally, we have a new genre this time.  Kids music.
That concludes my coverage of The Best So Far in Music for the Summer of 2010.  I will be returning to reviewing new and upcoming releases until the final installment in Late December 2010 or Early January of 2011

The Heat is On: TBSF Summer 2010-Hip Hop/Rap

The last of the major categories this Summer to warrant its own blog entry is Hip Hop and Rap.  I still have three genres to go (there are a few kids entries this summer), but there were so few entries this summer that I am combining Kids, Gospel/R&B and Folk/Folk Rock into one entry. Without further ado, the The Best in Hip Hop and Rap for the Summer of 2010 are:
The K-Drama album is Hip Hop/Rap but its full title is We Fit: The Workout Plan.  It is a fitness album, but the music stands alone on its own.  I am not starting a genre for fitness albums.

The Heat is On: TBSF Summer 2010-Modern Worship

The best of this Summer's music continues with the Modern Worship genre.  While some may bemoan the fact that Modern Worship is a genre, the fact is that it is. But that doesn't mean that an artist cannot drop in and out of the genre.  If an alternative or rock artist produces a "worship album", it will go in the Modern Worship genre, if there are only a few worship songs on an album otherwise classified as Rock, Alternative, Pop or another genre, it will either only be classified with its musical genre or will be placed in both. With that in mind, here are the Modern Worship entries for this summer.
The requirements are simple.  Every song must be "vertical", there must be enough of a beat and energy to avoid drifting off into sleep, and it must be authentic.  It should not be flat, the listener should feel drawn into the worship experience. By those standards Jeremy Camp's We Cry Out did not make final cut.  It was flat and I was not drawn in. By means of Full Disclosure, I am not a Jeremy Camp fan, but neither am I Casting Crowns fan.  However my only gripe with the Casting Crowns album is at only 8 songs it is too short.  It fits all the other rules.

The Heat is On: TBSF Summer 2010-Dance/Electronica/Techno

We continue our look at the best of this Summer with Dance/Electronica/Techno genre. There weren't too many entries in this category but just enough to justify it's own blog entry.  Here they are:
(D) Indicates a debut release, Best New Artist consideration.

I have included Kerrie Roberts in this category as well. While her hardest song is Rock, most of the album has enough electronic influence to classify it as Dance as well.

The Dance genre is possibly the most generous to get into, all you have to have is a well produced album, with music that makes you want to dance, and vocals (if there are any) that are up to the task.  By Way of example this year Kerrie Roberts releases a well produced dance album, with the music that makes you want to dance and her vocals are never eclipsed by the loudest music. On the other hand, Natalie Grant released a well produced album which could also fit into the dance genre, and the music certainly made you want to dance, but, when the volume went up Grant disappeared.  Her vocals simply are not up to the task, unlike Roberts and Tiffany Lee (aka Plumb).  That's why Roberts is in and Grant didn't make the cut.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Heat Is On: TBSF Summer 2010-Alternative

Continuing with the Best of This Summer, we move on to the Alternative genre.  Not surprisingly, a fairly crowded genre can produce not only a fair number of mediocre albums, but quite a few award winners as well.  The Summers Best are:
(D) Indicates a debut release, Best New Artist consideration 

This list should be beyond criticism, but I already know that's a pipe dream.  I have already read some reviews fairly critical of The Afters release and both Starflyer 59 and Kevin Max make music that appeals to a fairly limited audience. Nevertheless, this is my take. Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gimme Shelter

Jars of Clay Presents The Shelter, the eleventh studio release by Grammy award winning folk-rock band Jars of Clay, is a return to the raw sound of frail, or as some call it, their Self Titled debut, which released way back in 1995, that initially drew many fans with its unique sound.  If it were not already called The Shelter it could have been named Jars of Clay and Friends, due to its abundance of guest vocalists and musicians.
  1. Small Rebellions (feat. Brandon Heath)
  2. Call My Name (feat. Thad Cockrell, Audrey Assad)
  3. We Will Follow (feat. Gungor)
  4. Eyes Wide Open (feat. Mac Powell, Derek Webb, and Burlap to Cashmere)
  5. Shelter (feat. Toby Mac, Audrey Assad, Brandon Heath)
  6. Out of My Hands (feat. Mike Donehey, Leigh Nash)
  7. No Greater Love
  8. Run in the Night (feat. Thad Cockrell) 
  9. Lay it Down (feat. David Crowder, Dawn Richardson)
  10. Love will find us (feat. Sara Groves, Matt Maher)
  11. Benediction (feat. Amy Grant)
No, I didn't make a mistake. Remarkably, No Greater Love is the only classic Jars of Clay song on the CD.  That's neither good or bad. It simply is. Someone already wrote that part of the fun with albums of this kind is to see if you can pick out the guests. I think I did fairly poorly in this regard, because I only could pick out the more obvious ones (Mac Powell's accent is obvious, a don't blink or you'll miss it Toby Mac, Leigh Nash's high pitched vocals, and the guitar work of Burlap to Cashmere). Some of it was because I am not familiar with the artist (Thad Cockrell, Dawn Richardson, Matt Maher, Audrey Assad), but for the most part it was due to the fact that their parts were not distinct other than in the case of Assad, Groves, Richardson and Grant, you knew it was a female voice. Note: After the original post, I discovered that Dawn Richardson is the maiden name of Dawn Michele, the lead vocalist of Fireflight. I sincerely regret the error or the fact I didn't recognize her voice.

This is a unique sort of album, and it's hard to play favorites with the tracks. I have come to enjoy a 4 song grouping though, tracks 4-7.  I guess it's because I like Mac's voice. Shelter seems like it was designed for a church choir, and I guess I've missed Sixpence NTR recently.  And Jars, well, they're Jars, what's not to like?

I'm giving The Shelter 4.5 Emeralds, and it will certainly make the Fall 2010/1st Quarter Platinum Vinyl Awards nominations for 2011. A great album.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Heat is On: TBSF Summer 2010-Rock

The Rock Genre is getting pretty crowded these days, and this summer's quality entries aren't helping whittle things down in Platinum Vinyl Award contention.  I am thinking that to make this entry more manageable, I will eventually have to split things in two.  I am thinking of calling the two categories Classic Rock and Hard Music.  That way we can keep the Fireflight fans from the Haste the Day fans, and everyone should be happy. Until that happens, here is the unsifted list of nominees in Rock:
(D) Indicates a Debut Release and nomination for Best New Artist

For my review of 7th Symphony and my reasons for inclusion in PVA contention Click Here

I don't see why Lincoln Brewster and Disciple wouldn't make most best of lists. BarlowGirl should, but it is a best of album.  Enough Hard Music enthusiasts might exist to put in a good word for The Showdown.  I don't think anyone has heard of Evolett, and that's a shame, and the same might go for Kerrie Roberts and Heather Williams.  See above for the reason Apocalyptica wouldn't be included. I think they are all worthy. 

The Heat is On: TBSF Summer 2010-Pop

Now that Autumn is in force it is proper to return to another roundup of The Best So Far for the Summer Months (July-Sept).  At least this time I'm tackling three months instead of six. Without further ado I shall explore the best in the Pop genre that will pass, along with the first batch of entries into the first elimination round for the Platinum Vinyl Awards in early January. (I honestly hope to have a full cutdown to 5 like the Grammy's, but it might be more reasonable to vote on a top 10 for each genre.) The new additions for Pop are as follows:
(D) Indicates a Debut Release, Best New Artist Nomination

Most likely The Newsboys and Smitty are on everyone's list, but the two others may escape notice.  They haven't escaped the Night Beat's notice though.