LP Review: Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Hello Starling
Signature; 2003

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "Bright Smile", "Kathleen", "You Don’t Make It Easy Babe", "Wings", "Snow Is Gone", "Bone of Song"

The sound of a man singing for the love of it.

TRACK NOTES

"Bright Smile" (4.5/5)

  • Right off the bat, it sounds like another huge leap forward.
  • Soft and beautiful, wistful and innocent.
  • Love that guitar line. It’s a daydream.

"Kathleen" (5/5)

  • Love this song.
  • “All the other girls here are stars/You are the northern lights”
  • However, something has always bothered me about the vocals, like the song should be in a different key to really get Josh’s voice right.
  • Regardless, great stuff.

"You Don’t Make It Easy Babe" (4.5/5)

  • Great song.
  • The live version found on a later EP is fantastic.
  • “Here I am standing at your window again…”

"Man Burning" (4/5)

"Rainslicker" (4/5)

  • Excellent arrangement.
  • This is lazy rainy day music.

"Wings" (4.5/5)

  • Amazing lyrics (one of his trademarks of course).
  • Love it when the piano tones in.

"California" (4/5)

  • "This song goes out to every waiter in Los Angeles."

"Snow Is Gone" (5/5)

  • One of his defining songs. Completely brilliant and joyful.
  • “I’m singing for the love of it/Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored…”
  • “Hello blackbird/Hello starling/Come on over/Be my darling!”

"Bone of Song" (4.5/5)

  • Another quiet and gorgeous song.
  • Love the fiddle playing "Auld Lang Syne" at the end.

"Baby That’s Not All" (4/5)

  • Gorgeous melody.
  • Sweet arrangement.
  • Not an amazing song, but the melody and arrangement carry it a long way.

"Bad Actress" (3.5/5)

  • Remarkably forgettable.
  • I think this one could have been left off to the improvement of the album.
  • After all, it would be pretty good as an outtake.

ALBUM NOTES

  • On Hello Starling, JR still sounds like he hasn’t into his own in terms of his voice and performance, but most of the songs are great nonetheless, and there’s an undeniable warmth and heart to his performances that wins you over.
  • Great lyrics, great melodies. In fact, the lyrics are the best thing about this record.
  • The loveliness, quite simply, abounds. Even some of the lesser known cuts like "Bone of Song", "Rainslicker", and "Baby That’s Not All", though understated, sound as fresh as the country rain.
  • Though he’s taken a turn for the more produced over the last few albums, I’d love to get a stripped down, bluegrass sort of record from Ritter. His melodies are strong enough to carry something like that through.
  • One thing that bothers me about this album is the production. It just sounds uneven (maybe it was supposed to sound live?).
  • Overall, portends of the great things to come.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.32/5)

Quick Review (LP): Being There by Wilco

Wilco
Being There
Reprise; 1996

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: "Misunderstood", "Far, Far Away", "Monday", "Outtasite", "Forget the Flowers", "What’s the World Got In Store", "Say You Miss Me", "Sunken Treasure"

Power-pop + Art-punk + Cosmic Americana + Epic country = Classic LP

NOTES

  • "Misunderstood" is the height of transcendence. Brilliant in every conceivable way.
  • First you have those lyrics. ("When you’re back in your old neighborhood/Cigarettes taste so good/But you’re so misunderstood/So misunderstood…")
  • Then the instrumentation. The way different instruments carry the tune by themselves at different times.
  • And Tweedy sounds completely lovesick over rock and roll.
  • "Far, Far Away" is transporting. THAT’s cosmic american music right there. That’s what I think of.
  • "I long to hold you in my arms and sway/Kiss and ride on the CTA"
  • "Monday" sounds like the fusion of Big Star and Grand Funk Railroad. Power pop glory. Love the horns. Brilliant.
  • "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" is a second power pop gem. These guys sound like they are having a blast. Sounds Petty-ish.
  • "Forget the Flowers" is a cool little truck stop country tune. It’s unassuming, but it’s a winner.
  • "Red-Eyed and Blue" is the sort of off-kilter experiment that makes this album so special. Sleigh bells and whistles!
  • "I Got You" is good power-pop, though not as great as tracks 3 and 4.
  • "What’s the World Got In Store" is a personal favorite. Gonna request it when I see them live in a few months.
  • "Hotel Arizona" is a bit of a joke by title alone, but in all reality it’s a pretty cool rock song.
  • What does "Say You Miss Me" remind me of? It’s those background vocals. Fantastic groover regardless.
  • "Sunken Treasure" is one of their greats. "I am so out of tune with you…"
  • "Someday Soon" is another brilliant slice of roadhouse country.
  • "Outta Mind (Outta Sight)" is an unncessary aberration on an otherwise brilliant album.
  • I think of Dylan on "Someone Else’s Song." Nice accordion in the background.
  • "Kingpin" is too jammy. In my opinion, filler, though I guess it’s a bit of a highlight live.
  • I like the feel of "Was I In Your Dreams." Sort of woozy, a drunken, lovesick singalong perhaps?
  • "Why Would You Wanna Live" is fairly forgettable. Belongs toward the end of the record.
  • "The Lonely 1" may be kind of pitiful, but it’s gorgeous as well. Reminds me of the film Almost Famous. I love to think of a young kid looking up to his rock star hero.
  • "Dreamer In My Dreams" never really does anything for me. I know they were trying to go for that Stones thing, and it works nice enough on the album, but overall, it’s subpar Wilco. (Is it anything more than a fractured rip-off of "Honky Tonk Women"?)
  • Supposedly based on a film of the same name. Even sounds faintly cinematic.
  • Interesting recording process for this record. Each song was rehearsed, recorded, and mixed on its own day.
  • Apparently 30 songs were recorded. Deluxe edition, anyone?
  • Love the simplicity of the album cover and artwork in general. The album concept is reinforced by the shots of the band in the studio. As for the album cover, nothing really says “being there” in rock and roll like the hand on the guitar. Understated, but appropriate and, to a degree, brilliant.

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

Quick Review (LP): Angles by The Strokes

The Strokes
Angles
RCA; 2011


My Rating: B (77/100)

Best Tracks: "Machu Picchu", "Under Cover of Darkness", "Two Kinds of Happiness", "Call Me Back", "Gratisfaction"


Apparently, no one likes this album. I guess it takes someone who didn’t believe the hype in the first place to say this, but I dig it quite a bit, thank you.

NOTES
– Love the sound of "Machu Picchu."
– "Under Cover of Darkness" sounds like classic Strokes.
– Nice 80’s sound on "Two Kinds of Happiness." Sounds sort of like golden age Tom Petty.
– "Girl from Impanema" salute on "Call Me Back."
– I dig the sort of goofy evil robot feel of "Metabolism.” Were they aiming to make a contribution to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack?
– What does that cover remind me of, other than Q-Bert?
– "Gratisfaction" sounds like Thin Lizzy.
– My take is that the band is posturing for a Weezer-like second decade. I don’t think they really care at this point about being countercultural heroes so much as continuing to churn out hyper-catchy indie rock. Fair enough.
– This is a band that comes with a lot of baggage for most who care, but I’ve never been one to see them as a sort of second coming for rock and roll. I think that allows me to appreciate this record on its own as a catchy little slice of clubby rock and roll fun. Sort of like a good Huey Lewis record, radio-ready and bound to put a smile on your face, even though it may well be the most vapid and empty thing released this year. Tastes great, less filling. You can have it both ways.


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

Tracks of the Decade: “In State” by Kathleen Edwards

Kathleen Edwards
“In State”
from BACK TO ME
Other folk-rock songwriters saw more success than Kathleen Edwards this decade, but her passionate, full-bore delivery and muscular songwriting picked up where greats like Cash, Petty, and Farrar left off in decades past. “In State” was the strongest track off her excellent sophomore LP BACK TO ME, and it remains the ideal starting point for her music. As dejected as it is spiteful, the song sails on a seering guitar lead while Edwards assures her cheatin’ man: “I know when you’re going down.” “In State” evokes alt-country classics like Lucinda Williams’ CAR WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD, but Edwards’ delivery snarkily suggests that even after “20 years in state” she’s still not likely to forgive. While Neko Case undoubtedly gets the gold medal for alt-country voice of the decade, Edwards’ fervent focus and steady lyrical aim tip the songwriting scales in her favor. “In State” might be all the proof you need.
Great video, BTW…

points_kathleen_edwardsKathleen Edwards
“In State”
from BACK TO ME

Other folk-rock songwriters saw more success than Kathleen Edwards this decade, but her passionate, full-bore delivery and muscular songwriting picked up where greats like Cash, Petty, and Farrar left off in decades past. “In State” was the strongest track off her excellent sophomore LP BACK TO ME, and it remains the ideal starting point for her music. As dejected as it is spiteful, the song sails on a seering guitar lead while Edwards assures her cheatin’ man: “I know when you’re going down.” “In State” evokes alt-country classics like Lucinda Williams’ CAR WHEELS ON A GRAVEL ROAD, but Edwards’ delivery snarkily suggests that even after “20 years in state” she’s still not likely to forgive. While Neko Case undoubtedly gets the gold medal for alt-country voice of the decade, Edwards’ fervent focus and steady lyrical aim tip the songwriting scales in her favor. “In State” might be all the proof you need.

Great video, BTW…