Ben Harper – Give Till It’s Gone

Well, Ben Harper is back, again, this time with a return to his solo work (the first since 2006’s Both Sides of the Gun) and his tenth studio album, Give Till It’s Gone. It’s been a rough year for Harper…first the breakup with Virgin Records, then the breakup with his wife, actress Laura Dern. You’d think, under these less than desirable circumstances, that this would be a fantastic album, but while I wish that were the case, it simply isn’t so.

Can someone please tell me why an album like his last effort with The Relentless 7, White Lies For Dark Times was so poorly received, while this one is getting rave reviews? It’s just a little bit ridiculous. I rather enjoyed WLFDT, while most critics tore it apart. Now, Harper gives us a whining, droning, waste of bandwidth and everyone seems to go batshit crazy for it. It doesn’t even have a negative review on Metacritic, yet, and that’s almost unheard of. You’d think there’d at least be someone out there trolling on it. Well,  I guess this time, that someone happens to be me. It seems like this album just never actually gets off the ground, despite the assistance of heavyweights like Ringo Starr and Jackson Browne.

I get it. It’s supposed to be this post-break up confessional, especially with tracks like “Don’t Give Up On Me Now”, the first hit of the album, but it simply falls flat. He tries an attempt at genuine angst, but it just comes out from disorganized, noisy, and full on messy in tracks like “Clearly Severly” to merely clumsy with songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Free” to a misguided attempts at psychedelia with the Beatles’ inspired, “Spilling Faith”.

What a bummer, because I really do like Ben Harper. This album really wasn’t even worth the download time. Apparently a lot of other people are loving the shit out of it, though, so you never know, you might still dig it. For me, though, I can bring myself to give it anything over a C. Hopefully he gets through whatever the hell this phase is and goes back to making inspired, inventive, and classically Ben Harper-styled tunes.

You can check it out for yourself, streaming for free on his Myspace. You can check out more on his site, Facebook, and Twitter, as well. Well this was certainly a down note to start the weekend. Hopefully, the rest of my new albums are better!

“Don’t Give Up On Me Now”

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One to Watch Out For: TJ Evans

So, you may not know her name yet, but chances are you know someone she’s related to. From the press release:

“Her musical heritage includes great uncle Peter Bocage, one of the great trumpeters of New Orleans history,  and piano giant Eddie Bo. TJ’s grandmother was an opening act for Ray Charles, and her mother spent years touring as a vocalist with George Clinton’s Brides of Funkenstein.

With the release of her latest singles on May 31, Evans continues in that long family tradition. Recording “Paradiso” with her uncle Cordell “Boogie” Mosson of Parliament Funkadelic, TJ showcases her unique, soulful sound. She also recruited legendary MC Grandmaster Jay to collaborate for “Shakey Ground.” These two tracks hint at great things to come from an artist coming into her own.”

The granddaughter of funk has sprinted out of the gate with a ferocity unparalleled. One of her first two singles, “On Shakey Ground” is already making waves, in addition to “Paradiso”.

Evans began playing at the tender age of 14, but took some time away to pursue music journalism and photography, snapping pictures of bands like George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Amuse, Remember Paris, and Every Avenue.

Influenced by everyone from Patty Labelle to Pantera, the girl’s got soul. While quietly reserved on a regular basis, her gritty vocals, raw guitar and deep grooves tell you everything that you need to know.

Check out the video below of Evans with with “Uncle Boogie” and George Clinton at BB King’s Blues Club in NYC and definitely keep an eye out for this one. She’s a firecracker! You can keep tabs on all the latest news on her Myspace, Facebook, or Twitter.

The Paper Scissors – In Loving Memory

So, to be quite honest, when I first listened to this album, I wasn’t a fan. It’s out there. Like way out there. Maybe not on par with Gaga out there, but definitely on par with Modest Mouse out there. I listened to it once and I must have heard something in there, because I kept on trying it again and again. And another time after that.

The Australian garage-rock trio will be releasing their second, full-length album, In Loving Memory, on June 17, 2011. From their site:

“In the age of 3:30 digital singles, The Paper Scissors are cutting against the grain with their new album In Loving Memory. A creation for lovers of long-form albums, the record brings together a range of influences and topics to create a truly international rock soundscape.

The songs were written during the band’s travels; from home in Sydney to as far away as Queens, New York, in various studios and via email through numerous long sessions. Jai Pyne has written lyrics about a range of topics from family, love, drunkenness, alcoholism, death, sex, the ocean, weather, isolation and more, bringing a disparate collection of musings into one of the most coherent and focused collections of songs from an Australian band this year.

“We’ve shed any insecurities and have pieced together an album that embodies us as a band,” explains Jai. “The way our sound has evolved and the fact that it reflects our learning and growth explains why it’s taken so long to realise this album.”

Discovered by underground radio including FBI and Triple J, the band’s first single “We Don’t Walk” captured the playfulness and self-assured outlook of youth developing a loyal fan base which was cemented with national touring .

The first taste of the new album showed a remarkable growth in the band with the single “Lung Sum” released in late 2010. With a deeper outlook, but a solid basis in pop melody, the track took the listener on a journey, preparing for what was to come on “In Loving Memory”.

Mixed by UK producer Tom McFall (REM, Weezer, Snow Patrol), the album is a clear artistic statement. Part UK, part US and totally Australian, “In Loving Memory” is a reflection of urban Sydney and the influences, contradictions, loves and pressures inherent in a complex life.”

It certainly is. It’s certainly a unique album and unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of people will give it the second (and third and fourth) chances that it really deserves. There’s a depth to it that’s not readily available in today’s music meat market. I think someone chose the term “soundscape” quite correctly when writing that blurb there, because that’s exactly what this is, and until you immerse yourself into it, I don’t think that it can really be appreciated. The songs kind of just slide on past, until you take that moment to stop and actually listen to them.

This time around, they’ve lost a little of that playful attitude of yore (just a little, mind you) in favor of an emotive and laid-back sound. From chanting hits like the first single “Lung Sum” or airy, floaty numbers like “On Your Hand”, or the almost Gorillaz-esque “Wrong”, its really a pretty good album. It’s got a spacey, indie vibe, perfect for a chilly, autumn evening. They really are like Modest Mouse meets Gorillaz…in Australia.

From what I hear, they’re stellar live, and touring! So if you hear of The Paper Scissors in your neck of the woods, definitely check them out. In the meantime, though, you also check out all the latest other news on their site, Myspace, Facebook, or Twitter.

“Lung Sum”

Metal Monday: Dethlehem Two-fer!

Well, it’s the very first Metal Monday here on That Girl With A Blog and boy do we have a treat for you! Pittsburgh’s very own Dethlehem has released their second full length album, The Ghorusalem Codex, Volume 2: Of Magick & Tyranny, the long awaited sequel to their 2009 debut, The Ghorusalem Codex, Volume I: Enthroned Upon A Spire.

“But, what makes this a two-fer!?”, you ask. And the answer to that question is the fact that I saw them spouting this stuff live on Friday. Kickass.

As for Dethlehem, self-described as “epic, medieval, fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons metal”, they’re a riot. What sets them apart from other bands in this vein is their tongue-in-cheek approach. Imagine Gwar, but funny. To catch you up on the story so far, from the band’s Myspace:

Dethlehem formed in the greatest respect to the centuries old story of the Three-Wise-Demons. The story takes place long ago before the first cataclysm, in the well known village of Dethlehem, in the land of Ghorusalem. History says that a baby with great, evil powers was born to a virgin goblin whore. After the birth, the infant first brought plague to the village of Dethlehem. Not soon after, ancient flying serpents were awakened from their hibernation deep in the earth’s crust. They soon ruled the land, only to abide by the unholy one’s word. Soon, the Three-Wise-Demons: Galatan, Kullinia, and Brigalathis visited the baby boy and revealed to him just how much evil he could control. They named him, Yagolith.

Yagolith, king of all that is evil, harnessed his powers for the most evil purposes. With his ability to shape shift into a dragon, he became quite knowledgable, and his hunger for treasure grew and grew.

For hundreds of years, Yagolith went unchallenged. Until a Legion of Warriors traveled the lands to battle him under a cursed sky…

Long story short, and not to give too many spoilers (you can download this album for free here to get the full story), the formidable band of archaic men kick some goblin-dragon shapeshifter and demon ass. Hey, if they hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been a Volume 2, right? You could’ve figured that one out on your own.

And that leaves us where The Ghorusalem Codex, Volume 2: Of Magick & Tyranny begins. After vanquishing the malevolent Yagolith, the gang, comprised of Lord Bonecrush, Overlord Brom, Bovice, Davidcus the Black, and Hildor, return to find their beloved Dethlehem in ruins. They embark on a quest amidst sand, dirt, and sky to seek their revenge.

I must admit that it’s actually a pretty damn good story! I find myself getting what is probably far more into this album than I should be. All except for the pee-soaked goblin. I could do without the scent of urine. I guess it’s adds to the charm, though, eh? I do also find myself missing the epic guitar solos of Volume 1 (but they brought it back a little in their live show!), but it leaves more room for this yarn to be spun and more adventures to be had. Also, in comparison of their first effort, they’ve gone for a slightly more melodic approach versus their prior thrash metal status, which I particularly prefer. Oh, there’s still growling and such, but the new sound paints a much more vivid story. This is certainly a band of very talented men doing what they do best and having a little fun while they’re at it. That much fun is bound to be infectious, and it sure is.

Alright, now I do know how this ends, but you’re just going to have to listen to the album for yourself to find out. I can tell you that it involves a kick ass fight scene and some portals. Can’t go wrong with portals, right?

To be honest here, I always find it a little harder to do a review for a local band. The Pittsburgh music scene is alive and well and who am I to knock someone down a peg? Thankfully, Dethlehem has made this one very easy for me. I like this album, a lot, and want to know what’s fucked up?

It’s even better live.

Myself and The Husband went to go see them at their CD release show at The Smiling Moose Friday night. I should add that I haven’t been to The Moose since July of 2009, for what I think is a pretty good reason, but this was a pretty kickass way to break that streak. It actually wasn’t the first time that we’d seen them, but it was indeed the first time that we’d seen them in a proper venue. For starters, the place was beyond packed (sold-out, actually, if I’m thinking correctly) and you simply couldn’t beat the energy, despite the fact that it was “late as tits” (Lord Bonecrush).

There were pirates, wenches, medieval knights, and inflatable 20-sided die. I don’t think you can really beat that. They opened with the beginning of the new album, talk-y bits and all, went into a few old tracks and did their classic, rousing rendition of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose”, which was shockingly good. Overlord Brom is a beast on the drums, managing to play them impeccably well, IN A HELMET. Seriously, just check these guys out already. This was definitely a well spent Friday night in Pittsburgh. These guys totally get an A for effort. When it comes to Dethlehem, you can be assured that nothing you ever hear will be half-assed. Check out more on their site, Facebook, or Twitter.

And Happy Metal Monday! Stay tuned for the next installment with another Pittsburgh band, River Runs Scarlet!

“Kiss From A Rose”

Hugh Laurie – Let Them Talk

What’s crazier than Dr. Gregory House making an album? The fact that it’s not half bad. Actually, it’s really very good. Hugh Laurie is beginning to prove himself the exception to every rule. Celebrity/musician crossovers have a tendency to be…well…terrible to say the least. William Shatner, anyone? Also, an English guy doing the blues. There must be an embarrassingly short list of nominees in that category, because the only other two that come to mind are Eric Clapton and John Mayall.

We’ve caught a glimpse of his musical history in a handful of House episodes, but it’s taken him this long to actually release his first full-length album, Let Them Talk, released earlier this month. Granted, he does have a pretty impressive cast of characters including Tom Jones, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Kevin Breit, Vincent Henry, and Allen Toussaint, but Laurie is the man with the plan on piano and main vocals.

Laurie’s homage to New Orleans is a serious foray into music, despite the atypical environs. Most celebrities take their fame status to the bank, expecting their name to sell albums, but with Let Them Talk, it’s easy to forget that this is House we’re talking about. Knight status having, boat rowing, classic comedian House. His renditions of classic blues songs like “St. James Infirmary”, “After You’ve Gone” and “They’re Red Hot” never feel forced. It’s almost shameful how well a white, English guy sings the blues. In fact, Laurie himself muses in the liner notes, “I was not born in Alabama in the 1890s. I’ve never eaten grits, cropped a share, or ridden a boxcar. No gypsy woman said anything to my mother when I was born and there’s no hellhound on my trail, as far as I can judge. Let this record show that I am a white, middle-class Englishman, openly trespassing on the music and myth of the American south.” At least he admits it.

This is an better blues album than I could even hope to find in 2011, proving that recollective and universal themes in myth and music will never be out of style. I also love how this album seems to be purely for Laurie’s sake. I’m sure he’s not hurting in the financial department, reportedly making $400,000 PER EPISODE for the hit series on Fox. It’s simply Hugh Laurie doing what he likes to do and possibly bringing a few old names back into the spotlight.

As for the album itself…quite frankly, I love it. The piano is simply phenomenal and you really can’t beat Allen Toussaint for a string arrangement. Laurie’s voice ranges from a raspy, sombre timbre to him just plain old having fun (you can almost SEE the House-like smirk on his face in a few of them).

This is an earnest, genuine, honest-to-god blues album from an Englishman. And an actor. What could have been a laughable mishap ended up being what I’m finding the be my favorite album of the year so far. It even gets an A.

You can check out all the latest news of Laurie’s blues ventures on his site, the Twitter, the Facebook, or his Myspace. You can also check out this video (hooray for Jools Holland!). Happy hump day, everyone!

“You Don’t Know My Mind”

Lady Gaga – Born This Way

I’ve spent the last five days pretty much listening to Lady Gaga’s new album, Born This Way, non-stop (with just a little bit of Fitz and the Tantrums thrown in…I know, weird mix, shut up). Anyway, The mere fact that it’s gone through so many listenings is a good sign, but I must admit that there are a few songs that I skip over. I did this with The Fame Monster, too, in the beginning, but that didn’t make me any less than a fan. I’m sure those few tracks will grow on me eventually, because they always do. It’s simply the power of Gaga.

I was beginning to wonder how many songs she was actually going to release before this album came out, because it was getting a little bit ridiculous. If you take the plain edition of the album, there’s only 14 tracks and she released at least four (five if you count “You and I”, also what’s up with the umlaut on that one? There’s supposed to be one). Granted, the deluxe edition has 17 plus five remixes, but still.

Only once I listened to the album did I really get it, and it was a great marketing scheme. People always buy that album for that song that they heard on the radio. Well, you’ve already heard (and most likely enjoyed) about a third of the album, so why not just buy it? Also, that whole Amazon/$1.00 thing really helped out, too. That dollar goes a hell of a long way when you consider the fact that this album is projected to sell 800,000 copies.

We expect Gaga to be (and this has become my new favorite word) “a weirdy”, but she’s really gone all out on this one. I mean, have you seen the video for “Born This Way”? If not, check it out. There is not enough LSD in the world to make that video “normal”. David Bowie would be proud. While previous albums were all about disco sticks, gettin’ drunk, and generally being fabulous, she’s gone off on an entirely different tangent. This time it’s religion and I still can’t tell if she’s genuinely into this whole religious thing or if she’s just being facetious. In one way, you have the uplifting, eponymous, anthem, but then you have songs like “Black Jesus/Amen Fashion”. She’s been going in this direction for a while, with the whole “Mother Monster”/”Little Monsters” situation and even with the Haus of Gaga, in a sense. Lady Gaga is no longer just a musician, she’s a brand, an entity. It’s easy to forget that this album entailed the assistance of 60+ people.

Even when speaking about the album in an interview with the BBC’s Newsbeat Gaga stated, “It’s finished and all, it’s just fine-tuning everything. It’s kind of like the post-operative stage of the album. I’ve already done the full heart surgery. I’m just sewing myself back up again. I think that lyrically this album is more poetic. It’s really written by the fans, they really wrote it for me because every night they’re funneling so much into me. So I wrote it for them. Born This Way is all about my little monsters and me, mother monster.”

Perhaps I’ve thought far too deeply about a pop album. That’s also quite possible. Apparently other people get this, too, though. From the EW review:

“The gospel of Gaga, as told in Born This Way, goes something like this: Humanity will be damned by its own self-doubt until Gaga the Savior delivers us with the might of her music. On the album’s first two singles, the messianic “Born This Way” and “Judas,” our muffin-bluffin’ Lady of yore is reborn as an earnest dance-party evangelist, retaining the beats but trading in her disco stick for a splinter of the Cross.”

Hilaaaaaaaaaaaarious.

In addition to that reoccurring theme, though, Born This Way is just as much about equality…in religion, freedom, sexuality, race, and pretty much anything else. Kind of an All American ideal over a euro-dance beat. Oh, and don’t forget the slutty parts like “Put your hands on me, John F. Kennedy” in “Government Hooker” or “I want your whiskey mouth all over my blond south” in “Heavy Metal Lover”. In a world of standard, radio-friendly pop hits, Gaga’s imagination is a welcome change.

The vast majority of the album is very good. “Marry the Night”, reportedly an homage to her love of New York opens the door to a fantastic pop album. Perhaps not the “album of the decade” like Lady Gaga promised, but pretty damn fun none the less. Minus the weird, diva-like aria at the beginning, I’m also really digging “Government Hooker”. Something about this song makes me think of a female Tim Armstrong. Maybe it’s her weird ass, almost drunk sounding “chorus”. That is a distinct possibility. For as weird as this song is, I can’t stop loving it. The perils of going Gaga, I suppose. It’s got a pretty fun, late 80’s inspired goth hook though, which also has elements present in “Highway Unicorn (Road 2 Love)”. Alright, I just want to stop to mention that that’s a ridiculous fucking song title. Gaga has managed to make everyone love her, from pre-teens, to teens, to twenty and thirty something party chicks to frat boys, to soccer moms to everyman. No everyman is going to be caught dead listening to a song called “Highway Unicorn”, okay? Other than that, it’s actually a pretty badass song.

The song that has really just fucked the shit out of my ears, though, is “Scheiße”. Gaga goes straight up German Hardcore. Well actually, she doesn’t speak German, but she will if you want her to, and in her own brand of quasi-fantasy German. That doesn’t make it any less hot, though.

Songs that I’ve been skipping are “Americano”, an in your face knock-off of “Alejandro”, except in female form, “Hair”, disappointingly self-explanatory, and “The Queen”…just can’t get into that one. This does not mean they won’t grown on me. Chances are they will in just the same way that “Dancing in the Dark” and “Monster” did.

All in all, I can admit that I expected more from Gaga, but I hold her to pretty high standards. At this point, I feel like this album is already over. With all the pre-releases, it’s like we’ve all been listening to this album for a year. Now, it has me eagerly awaiting her next, strange adventure. It still gets an A, but in the lower percentages. You can check it out for yourself, streaming for free on her Myspace.

Have some videos and a great holiday weekend, everybody!

“Scheiße”

“Government Hooker”

“Highway Unicorn (Road to Love)”