Quick Review (LP): Gold by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
Gold
Lost Highway; 2001

My Rating: C (47/100)

Best Tracks: "New York", "Firecracker", "La Cienega Just Smiled", "When the Stars Go Blue", "Wildflowers"

Pyrite.

NOTES

  • "New York, New York" is a big ol’ airwaves play. It’s a catchy tune.
  • "Firecracker" = decent alt-country. "Firecracker" = formulaic alt-country as well.
  • Unapologetically steals the descending chord progression from "The Weight." ("Answering Bell")
  • "La Cienega Just Smiled" is one of the prettiest tunes Adams has written. It’s also a frustrating recording, because his vocals sound so muffled.
  • "The Rescue Blues" sounds like a watered down Counting Crows outtake.
  • Adams’ version of "When the Stars Go Blue" is not my favorite (see The Corrs), but hey, it’s his tune, and he does a pretty good job.
  • "Nobody Girl" is some serious filler. A total throwaway.
  • As much as the first six or seven songs sound a little too radio-friendly, the slow and brooding stuff in the middle is just really bad. ("Sylvia Plath")
  • I like the power-pop harmonies on "Enemy Fire." Otherwise though, it’s sort of a boring tune.
  • "Gonna Make You Love Me" has a glimmer of life to it.
  • OK, "Wildflowers" does a little something for the album’s latter half. Not an amazing tune, but a worthy one.
  • And it just goes through the record’s last few songs. An incredible amount of filler here.  I imagine there are a handful of great songs here that could have combined with songs from Adams’ other pre-Love Is Hell stuff to make a really good album.
  • At times, this record is frustratingly generic. I blame it on Ethan Johns’ production, which makes the rough places far too plain.
  • According to the Wikipedia page, Adams wanted to "create a modern classic." That sounds like something Billy Corgan would say.
  • The AMG review yields some needed perspective: Half the fun of the album is playing "Spot the Influence": "Answering Bell" is a dead ringer for Van Morrison (with fellow Morrison enthusiast Adam Duritz on backing vocals), "Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues" is obviously modeled on the Rolling Stones, "Harder Now That It’s Over" sounds like Harvest-period Neil Young, "New York, New York" resembles Stephen Stills in his livelier moments (Stephen’s son, Chris Stills, plays on the album), and "Rescue Blues" and "La Cienega Just Smiled" suggest the influence of Adams’ pal Elton John. OK, fair enough, but that still doesn’t rescue ~60% of the songs from being sub-par and formulaic.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (2.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consistency (2/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

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Quick Review (LP): Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings by Counting Crows

Counting Crows
Saturday Nights, Sunday Mornings
DGC; 2008

My Rating: B (64/100)

Best Tracks: "1492","Hanging Tree", "You Can’t Count On Me", "Sundays", "Cowboys", "Washington Square"

Friday Aspirations, Monday Executions

– After a string of 4 great albums the Crows swing and miss.
– There seems to be an effort to create something "edgy" here. Why, in the minds of rock musicians, does "edgy" A) equal GOOD and B) boil down to sludgy guitars and depraved lyrics?
– "1492" rocks as hard as anything off of Satellites, but it doesn’t bear the same melodic genius.
– "Hanging Tree" and "Sundays" are both pretty good tunes.
– "Insignificant" = "Have You Seen Me Lately?"
– The softer material is good, but never rises to the greatness of efforts past.
– The vision outdoes the hooks.
– At the end of the day, the honest truth is that nothing on this record would make it onto a one CD collection of the Crows’ best. 
Thom Jurek of Allmusic thinks this is one of the Crows’ best. After reading his review, I’m inclined to rethink my score. I haven’t entirely given up on this album, but I do maintain that most of this sounds like re-treaded Crows.

Cohesion (4/5) 
Concept (4.5/5) – The strongest aspect of this record, the one that really makes it worth coming back to.
Consistency (3.5/5) – The first half is without a doubt stronger.
Consequence (4/5)
Songs (4/5) – A lot of almost great songs here, but none of them quite measure up with the Crows’ work of the past.

Quick Review (LP): Hard Candy by Counting Crows

hard candy counting crows Counting Crows
Hard Candy
DGC; 2002

My Rating: B+ (77/100)

Best Tracks: “Hard Candy”, “If I Could Give All My Love”, “Goodnight LA”, “Miami”

While I didn’t much dig this album upon its initial release back in 2002, I have to admit that it has stood the test of time remarkably well. Sure, if the Crows have a “sell-out” record, this is the one. The hidden track, “Big Yellow Taxi”, was all over the radio for a while, sounding more like an American Idol product than a single from the band that wrote “A Long December.” Additionally, Duritz co-wrote “Butterfly In Reverse” with Ryan “Critical Darling” Adams (long before ol’ Ryan had come through the strange phase that was his first five LP’s), which is arguably the worst track on the album. But the thing is, there’s just too many great tracks on this record to tank it overall. “Hard Candy” might be the best opening track on any of their albums. “Richard Manuel Is Dead” is a powerful and moving tribute to the tragedy of The Band’s heart and soul.  “Goodnight LA” and “Good Times” are big, harrowing, soulful numbers. Even “American Girls”, with its thin, poppy guitar jangle and hyper-yearning vocals, is a pretty fantastic song. That’s not to say that Hard Candy doesn’t have its flaws. For one, it’s frontloaded with the best material. For another, the production is too precious. But that’s OK, because it’s a very listenable record with several bright spots. While it may not be as good as any of their first three records, Hard Candy is at least in the same league.

Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

AMG review
SputnikMusic review
My review of August And Everything After
My review of Recovering the Satellites
My review of This Desert Life

Quick Review (LP): This Desert Life by Counting Crows

this desert life counting crows Counting Crows
This Desert Life
DGC; 1999

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye”, “Amy Hit The Atmosphere”, “All My Friends”, “High Life”

The Band‘s influence is still prominent, but what I think of with This Desert Life is Gram Parson‘s cosmic americana. There’s something particularly starry-eyed about the recordings here, with the more epic tracks achieving the sort of prolonged, brilliant focus that Duritz had only come close to achieving on Satellite‘s longer tracks. Standout performances belong to guitar wizard Dan Vickrey (again) and drummer Ben Mize, the former for continuing to channel Robbie Robertson’s humble-pie lead work, the latter for delivering some of the best working man rhythms since Kenny Buttrey’s magical performances on Blonde On Blonde. I’ve already declared my love for “Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye” elsewhere, but dozens of listens in it’s still one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard, the divine love child of “Rocket Man”, “City of New Orleans”, and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” And while Duritz got tagged with the “Van Morrison” mantle pretty early on, this record’s “All My Friends” is the track that comes closest to emulating the blue-eyed soul man. This is a wide-open road record, a celebration of classic rock that is at the same time the most focused and well-written in the Crows’ catalog. While it didn’t quite score the big hits, it’s the band’s sleeper, the little known gem that is just waiting to be discovered, by you and everyone else.

Cohesion (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

My review of Recovering The Satellites
My review of August And Everything After
SputnikMusic review
AMG review

Quick Review (LP): Recovering the Satellites by Counting Crows

recovering the satellites Counting Crows
Recovering the Satellites
DGC; 1996

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: “Daylight Fading”, “Children In Bloom”, “Monkey”, “A Long December”

After channeling Van Morrison on their first record, the Crows hired Pixies producer Gil Norton and decided to channel The Band on their second. You’ve got Dan Vickrey and his massive, flaming guitar riffs as Robbie Robertson, Duritz as the fame-wrecked and soulful Richard Manuel, and even Charles Gillingham’s organ sounds like the madness that Garth Hudson was putting out back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Where lovely mandolins once adorned the band’s pretty folk songs, Duritz has instead concocted a collection of stadium-sized hard rock songs. Some of them are epic. “Children In Bloom” and “Recovering the Satellites” both go way beyond anything you’d have thought the band was capable of on August and Everything After, and “Miller’s Angels” is about as impressionistic, cathartic, and arcane as a roots rock band could be that side of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Yet the album shares one key thing with August – great songs. Between “Daylight Fading”, “Monkey”, and “Have You Seen Me Lately?”, this is one of the better rock albums of a hard rock decade. That’s notable, especially since Duritz really doesn’t get much credit as a rock musician. But the proof is here for those who are willing to listen and put aside the fact that he is also the guy who wrote (great!) wuss-rock like “Mr. Jones” and “Round Here.” Still, the final word must go to “A Long December”, which is quite simply one of the greatest tracks of the 90’s, and the sort of tune that is nearly impossible not to sing along with. Naysayers, respect is due.

Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Cohesion (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Related Links:
My review of August and Everything After
AMG review of Recovering the Satellites
Duritz on the songs
SputnikMusic reviews of Recovering the Satellites

Quick Review (LP): Heaven Is Whenever by The Hold Steady

the hold steady heaven is whenever The Hold Steady
Heaven Is Whenever
Vagrant; 2010

My Rating: A

Best Tracks: “The Sweet Part of the City”, “We Can Get Together”, “The Weekenders”

There is a true authenticity to this music, and I certainly don’t think comparisons to Springsteen are unfounded. After all, what draws me in is the gorgeous sound, a great mix of twangy Americana and anthemic classic rock. Lyrically, there’s a hefty sense of midwest nostalgia, and when you really listen closely, you get the feeling in your gut that Craig Finn knows what in tarnation he’s doing as a songwriter. If forced to draw a direct comparison, I’d say The Hold Steady remind me most of Counting Crows without all the daydream believing. Still, Finn draws together “heavenly” themes quite nicely on this record, leading to a strong sense of cohesion. Given the melodic density and dramatic riffage contained herein, that puts this in the running for one of the year’s best.

Pitchfork review
Paste review
Metacritic reviews

Tracks of the Decade (so far)

1563_Pieter_Bruegel_the_elder_The_Tower_of_Babel-wl400There’s still more to come, but here’s a list of the Sweet Georgia Breezes’ Tracks of the Decade so far (in no particular order). What do you think of the list? What are your top 5 or 10 tracks of the decade?

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Wilco – I am trying to break your heart
The New Pornographers  – Myriad Harbour
M. Ward – Poison Cup
Kathleen Edwards – In State
Vampire Weekend – M79
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around
Built to Spill – The Weather
Neko Case – Star Witness
Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
Interpol – NYC
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Coldplay – Lost!
Ryan Adams – To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Fugazi – Cashout
Flaming Lips – Fight Test
Nathan – The Wind
Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place
Rachel’s – Water from the Same Source
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Bruce Springsteen – My City of Ruins
The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

Tracks of the Decade: “To Be Young” by Ryan Adams

ryanadams2“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)”
by Ryan Adams
from HEARTBREAKER (2000)

Nobody was as omnipresent as Ryan Adams this decade. Recording ten full-length LP’s, releasing numerous other tracks on EP’s and compilations, and appearing in association with artists from Counting Crows to Elton John, Adams began the decade with his own FREEWHEELIN’ and ended it roughly around his own NEW MORNING. I won’t go so far as to say that he peaked extremely early, but I will say that I don’t think he ever topped the remarkable beauty of the lead-off track from his debut, HEARTBREAKER. I remember thinking “To Be Young” made a huge case for Adams as Dylan’s second coming, managing to channel Robertson’s lead riffs over the devil-may-care shuffling rhythms of BLONDE ON BLONDE. While the lyrics are nothing special, Adams scores big by letting the simple language of lovelorn youth do the talking. “When you’re young/You get sad/Then you get high…” Adams sings, riding the lyrics on the lush melody like an old surf legend. Incredulity ensues on the bridge – “Oh the days the rain would fall your way” – as Adams ushers the song to new heights and seems right on the edge of emotional flame out. Simply brilliant, all around. While Adams unleashed a lot of great material on the public this decade, “To Be Young” set expectations so high that I don’t think he could’ve ever topped it. Who cares about the whole Dylan-thing anyway? Adams gave us a song for the ages here.

CD Review | Counting Crows: August & Everything After

Counting Crows
August and Everything After; 1993
Geffen Records
My Rating: 96/100
I do believe I’ve been through every feeling imaginable with AUGUST. There’s been delight; admiration; contempt; nausea; and, finally for some time now, settled amazement. There’s just no denying that this is a CLASSIC record, even if there was a point in my youth where I thought I was too hard for the pathetic tenderness it unashamedly wears. Although I’ve given most of the songs flawless scores, there’s five tracks here that are quite simply iconic, the rock and roll equivalent of pitching a perfect game. “Mr. Jones” may have been so overplayed at one point that you rolled your eyes, but you know you LOVE that song. “Round Here” opens the album like “Thunder Road” opened BORN TO RUN, while “Murder of One” would land in my top ten closers of all time. And “Rain King” – what can be said – one of the top ten greatest pop songs of the 1990’s, hands down. En masse, AUGUST ties it all together like no other record from the era, even besting the monumental AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE as an overall artistic statement. As AUGUST demonstrates, the Crows proved from the start that they could make the ghosts of roots rock past and present dance like none other. A must have for any record collection.
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Tracks:
1. Round Here (5/5)
2. Omaha (5/5)
3. Mr. Jones (5/5)
4. Perfect Blue Buildings (5/5)
5. Anna Begins (5/5)
6. Time and Time Again (5/5)
7. Rain King (5/5)
8. Sullivan Street (5/5)
9. Ghost Train (4/5)
10. Raining in Baltimore (4/5)
11. A Murder of One (5/5)

CountingCrowsAugustandEverythingAfterCounting Crows
August and Everything After; 1993
Geffen Records

My Rating: 96/100

I do believe I’ve been through every feeling imaginable with AUGUST. There’s been delight; admiration; contempt; nausea; and, finally for some time now, settled amazement. There’s just no denying that this is a CLASSIC record, even if there was a point in my youth where I thought I was too hard for the pathetic tenderness it unashamedly wears. Although I’ve given most of the songs flawless scores, there’s five tracks here that are quite simply iconic, the rock and roll equivalent of pitching a perfect game. “Mr. Jones” may have been so overplayed at one point that you rolled your eyes, but you know you LOVE that song. “Round Here” opens the album like “Thunder Road” opened BORN TO RUN, while “Murder of One” would land in my top ten closers of all time. And “Rain King” – what can be said – one of the top ten greatest pop songs of the 1990’s, hands down. En masse, AUGUST ties it all together like no other record from the era, even besting the monumental AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE as an overall artistic statement. As AUGUST demonstrates, the Crows proved from the start that they could make the ghosts of roots rock past and present dance like none other. A must have for any record collection.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)

Tracks:

1. Round Here (5/5)
2. Omaha (5/5)
3. Mr. Jones (5/5)
4. Perfect Blue Buildings (5/5)
5. Anna Begins (5/5)
6. Time and Time Again (5/5)
7. Rain King (5/5)
8. Sullivan Street (5/5)
9. Ghost Train (4/5)
10. Raining in Baltimore (4/5)
11. A Murder of One (5/5)

Tracks of the Decade: “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” by Counting Crows

Counting Crows, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” from THIS DESERT LIFE: Arriving early in the decade, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” was the centerpiece of Counting Crows’ last great record, THIS DESERT LIFE. An epic, cinematic masterpiece that captures all of Adam Duritz’s coffee-shop-romantic angst in bite size, “Lullaby” encapsulates the star-crossed dreams of America in the 1990’s, one last optimistic fix before the sobering events of 9/11. Accompanied by an absolutely fabulous music video (see below), the song blends “City of New Orleans” and Dylan’s “Memphis Blues”, with blindingly grandiose lyrics (“If dreams are like movies/Then memories are films about ghosts”), decadent production, and incendiary performances to boot. It may not be their most popular hit, but it’s got my vote as their best song. A huge claim, given the artistic wealth of their first two records, but you judge for yourself.
PS First one to callout the pre-fame cameo at 5:05’s the winner!

Mrs._Potter's_LullabyCounting Crows
“Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”
from THIS DESERT LIFE

Arriving early in the decade, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” was the centerpiece of Counting Crows’ last great album, THIS DESERT LIFE. An epic, cinematic masterpiece that captures all of Adam Duritz’s coffee-shop-romantic angst in bite size, “Lullaby” finds a muse in the star-crossed dreams of America in the 1990’s, one last optimistic fix before the sobering events of 9/11. Accompanied by an absolutely fabulous music video, the song marries “City of New Orleans” and Dylan’s “Memphis Blues”, with blindingly grandiose lyrics (“If dreams are like movies/Then memories are films about ghosts”), decadent production, and incendiary performances to boot. It may not be their most popular hit, but it’s got my vote as their best song. A huge claim, given the artistic wealth of their first two records, but you judge for yourself.

PS First one to callout the pre-fame cameo at 5:05’s the winner!