Not many of you know Kevin. I, myself, didn't know who he was for a long time. I first heard his name just after the turn of the new millennium. I was really into technical guitar players, most notably Paul Gilbert (fantastically talented, humorous fella who I'd recommend you all check out), and when Kevin's name popped up on a random music forum I couldn't help but think, "Does Paul have a brother I don't know about?" All of us have our moments of naivety. I can't remember if I actually checked out Kevin's solo music at the time. I'd like to think I forgot to, as I wouldn't be able to live down the shame of hearing it and neglecting to fall in love with it, as I have now. While certainly a different brand of music than Paul's, which is often guitar-focused and quirky, Kevin's generally uses a more diverse range of instruments, his humor is more tongue-in-cheek, and at times it's rather dark as well.
Kevin Gilbert is often overlooked, despite his great contributions to the world of music, as well as to many other musicians. His resume includes such accolades as keyboardist for Eddie Money, engineer for Michael Jackson's album Dangerous, and songwriter for Madonna. He's also credited with the discovery of Sheryl Crow (including a co-writing credit for her first hit, "All I Wanna Do"), who he met when she auditioned for his band at the time, Toy Matinee. It's amazing and saddening then, that most of you probably never knew you were listening to a song he'd written. Even more saddening due to the fact that Kevin passed away in 1996, far before his time. Ironically, within a week his manager was contacted to schedule an audition for him to be Phil Collin's replacement for Genesis, which surely would have given him the attention his work thus far deserved. His early departure, however, resulted in the fact that there are only a handful of people who really strive to help spread his music to new ears. I'm grateful to be fortunate enough to have found his music, and hope that this review will help do a small part in bringing his work to a more people.
I was debating with myself over the past week as to which album I would talk about. I knew Kevin would be the artist, but I kept changing up which release I thought I should focus on. While it could have been one of his former bands' releases, either from Giraffe or Toy Matinee, I felt that it should really be selected from one of his solo efforts. Would I select his debut release, Thud? A great album by any standard, but out of print. What good would it do me to tell you how fantastic an album is that you can't currently buy (but it really is good)? A year following Thud's release, Kevin passed away. Luckily for us, he was incredibly productive and his friends (notably Nick D'Virgilio and John Cuniberti) cared enough about him to scrounge up his intended, but incomplete, recordings, finish them, and then release them for his fan's auditory pleasure. The album that receives the most notice from this is The Shaming Of The True, a rock-opera following the character of Johnny Virgil as he scales the summit of music stardom and discovers the ugly face of the music industry. While I, too, love that album and would recommend it to anyone who's a fan of rock music in general, I've decided that it has received attention from writers far more articulate than myself, and that I should look to another release that has received less notice.
I'd like to point you all in the direction of the Gilbert Estate's more recent releases, two separate companion albums entitled Nuts and Bolts released in 2009. These albums, as their titles suggest, are some of the songs
leftover from Kevin's work (though not all that's left, I assure you). They range from re-recorded versions of previously released tracks, acoustic renditions, but largely features unheard releases. Compared to Thud and
Shaming..., the songs are more laid back, featuring mainly acoustic guitar and piano work. That is not to say that there isn't any excitement in these discs, as each song presents us with a new addictive melody and turn of phrase (Gilbert's lyricism is eloquent), and changes mood from track to track.
What I connect with most about Kevin's music, and Kevin himself, is that there appears to be little barrier between himself and what he shows you. When artists write songs, they often draw on their own experiences, but display them to you in a way that separates themselves from being in direct view through the lyrics. While Kevin doesn't sing about himself by name, as I suspect he thought people would find it both narcissistic and tiresome, he doesn't falter in showing emotions that many of us are afraid to admit to having. His self-depreciating attitude is notable in songs like "Finally Over You", which explores the low self-esteem of a man who tries to make an ex-girlfriend jealous by parading around with other women who he really doesn't care about, and "God's Been Tapping My Phone", which details a man's desperate attempts to find someone who thinks he's worthwhile. I find these honest and refreshing, bringing me a sense of appreciation for someone who is able to lay themselves out so plainly for us to see.
Many of the songs on these albums take us deep into Kevin's tumultuous love-life and the experiences he gained from them, such as the delightful song "Something Nice For My Dog", which takes a stab at a former flame in a truly novel fashion. But he takes detours to comment on how people (and perhaps countries) tend to live, to tell us a Pinocchio-style story from the point of view of the puppet maker, as well as to craft the most well-written song about writer's block that I've ever heard. Additionally, included here is his version of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", previously released as a bonus with Thud, which is quite brilliantly performed. From start to finish, this collection is a wonderful addition to the Gilbert catalog, and I find myself listening to these two just as often as any of his other works.
Though Kevin left us far too soon, we have been fortunate in the fact that he was such a proficient and talented individual. He was gracious enough to leave us these presents that we're able to unwrap and experience, some
for the very first time. While I can hope that they'll soon uncover another album's worth of material accidentally hidden under an old rug, I realize that if this is all that we have of him to experience, it is quite a treasure to have. Kevin Gilbert shared himself with us in each of these songs, opening up and making himself more vulnerable than most people we ever meet will do for us. It's a rare thing that we have here, and people would be wise to take a moment and peek inside. They might just see themselves.
"It came out great, and I sent it to my friend who worked at A&R, and he took it to the boss. And the boss said, 'Kevin Gilbert? Who is Kevin Gilbert? Why are we going to put this on the Led Zeppelin tribute? I mean, sure, it's good, but who the hell is Kevin Gilbert?' So the word came back to me that, quote,
'You're not famous enough to be on the Led Zeppelin tribute."
- Kevin Gilbert, Interview 1995
For the last few years, New York-based Dead Empires has been releasing an increasing number of enticing audible appetizers. From their initial EP as a three-piece, to the recent digital arrival of their new song "Blackout", which sees them adding a second guitar player, they've displayed the ability to make a big sound without losing a melodic ear. They were kind enough to send me an advanced copy of their new album, Waiting In Waves, which will be hitting the streets a little later this year. After listening, I can safely say that if you haven't given this hard-hitting ensemble a chance yet, your time would be well spent getting acquainted with them.
I had the esteemed pleasure of seeing the group open for hard rock band, Return To Earth (feat. original Dillinger Escape Plan drummer, Chris Pennie), at The Saint in New Jersey a few years back. A three-piece at the time, I was amazed at how much music they managed to fill the club with, which even rivaled the seven-man band that followed them. Even more impressive about this event was the attendance of Guns N' Roses guitarist, Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, who, in fact, mastered Dead Empires' first EP, Monuments.
"Hello To Oblivion" from the EP Monuments.
For those familiar with them, the difference between the band's past and present is, like a growing child, simply a refinement of who they are. For those new to the fold, Dead Empires is an instrumental endeavor, fluctuating between sledgehammer riffs and moments of light repose. One minute, an energetic groove grabs you by the collar, banging your head back and forth vigorously, and the next you're smoothly reclined into a comfortable jazzy interlude. An excellent example is the massively infectious single, "Blackout", which witnesses a wonderful cameo by another great New York-based band, Thank You Scientist. Whether it's the lounge-inspired elevator music there, the neck-hair tingling bridge in "Carl Weathered", or the back-and-forth between the rhythm guitars and drums on the title track, the new album delivers a taste for everyone who is willing to spare an ear. And seriously, if a song called "Getting Head From A Guillotine" doesn't raise a curious earbrow, I don't know what will.
Often, instrumental albums tend to bore me. I find myself yearning for a vocalist and inspirational, relatable lyrics to break up the monotony of what often is simply one guitar solo after another. That isn't the case with this album, which provides enough participation by all members of the band to not make me feel it is any one person's avenue for showboating. Every member leaves their mark, and it leaves me wanting more. Waiting In Waves is a fantastic first full length by a band who is striving to earn an audience. I'm proud to say they have my attention.
Rating: 4/5 Sharps
New single, "Blackout", from the upcoming album!
How do you accurately judge the quality of an album, when all the records previously released by that band had such a big impact on you? Especially when it's so new! Taking in music and really appreciating it is kind of like cooking - you can't just turn the temperature up twice as high and expect it to cook in half the time. The same with music, you can't listen to an album just once with the volume on eleven and truly appreciate it. Rather, you're better off finding that sweet spot on the dial and letting the soundwaves caress you, taking in the nuances as they leap out at you. You, and the record, deserve that quality bonding time.
Growing up, my experience with Matchbox Twenty was casual at best. I remember hearing radio staples such as "Real World", "Bent", and "Unwell" over the years, but I never really got caught up with the rest of their music at the time. Fast forward to a few year ago, a friend and I were instant messaging, trying to one up each other with nostalgic music videos, only to stumble upon "If You're Gone" once again. A strange addiction to the song formed, and, unknown to me at the time, I would soon own all three albums and play them incessantly on the car ride to and from work. I realized that I didn't just like this music because it reminded me of youthful summers,
but because I also found merit in music and connection with the lyrics. Songs of heartache, self-degradation, and hope followed the miss-steps of my own life and kept me going on.
I knew that I would be buying "North" when it was released earlier this week. I owned all the albums released thus far, minus "Exile From Mainstream", which was an EP with a Greatest Hits album tagged on. I debated about pre-ordering it, but I knew that if I did that, I wouldn't get it on release date - so what was the point of pre-ordering it? So, on Sept. 4th, I went to Target (which claims two exclusive bonus songs - different from iTunes' two bonus tracks) and bought it, like someone from the Stone Age.
"North" is the band's first album in ten years, following up "More Than You Think You Are". During that time, the group has taken several hiatuses, with Rob Thomas releasing two solo albums, the others exploring a variety of musical projects, and guitarist Adam Gaynor leaving the band. As a result of the latter, Paul Doucette stepped up to fill rhythm guitar duties and the group became a four-piece. I was a bit skeptical of this when I found out, as I always am with line-up changes. Usually they result in something lacking from the overall sound, and as I liked Matchbox Twenty's sound, I was concerned to say the least!
So then, what about it? Does "North" hold up to a decade of expectations and anticipation? That's not a fair question, and anyone expecting a decade's worth of musical tension release is bound to disappoint themselves. That being said, the new album delivers a diversity of sounds, each which possess a catchiness bound to draw a person from here, another from there. It stays away from a distinctly rock, guitar-driven sound, that was very indicative of their last full-length, so you won't find any tracks as heavy as "Feel" or "Cold", and don't play it expecting another "Real World". Replacing these are songs like "Put Your Hands Up" and (if you got it from
Target) "I Don't Wanna Be Loved", which have a 70s discotheque funkiness, and "Radio", which has sections that sound like a 1950s dance tune. Like I said, quite diverse! In a way, it reminds me a lot of Thomas' first solo
album, "Something To Be", though the lead vocals by guitarist Kyle Cook on "The Way" remind me otherwise.
Lyrically, the group continue it's tradition of focusing on the forming and destruction of relationships ("She's So Mean"), personal growth and discovery ("English Town"), and take the torch of "How Far We've Come", from their
compilation album, with songs of warning and hopefulness. The opener, "Parade", and closer, "Sleeping At The Wheel" strike at this last point, and are really standout tracks for me. The former warns us not to give up, because we could see ourselves reach outstanding heights if we just push on, and we could live our lives consumed by "What If?"s and regret if we don't try. The latter sings that we're not paying attention to the signposts of destruction that we're passing, but brings a ray of light in our ability to change our direction before it's too late.
The true test of this, and every other album the band has released, has always been much simpler than whether it falls within a certain genre, or if I connect with the subject matter. Do those help? Sure! But what I really look for is this: "Does it make me want to sing along?" The answer is a resounding "YES!" Every song on this album tugs at my vocal cords and says, "Come on, let's hear a little out of you." When you get to the next song and you're still singing the chorus from the last one, you know you've got a winner.
"When the music's over, but the song's still in your head." ~ Parade
photos courtesy Kristen Mankowski
Worry started to fill me on the ride up to the show. I was in the car,
driving my girlfriend and myself to see a longtime favorite band of mine, and
suddenly the sky unleashed its floodgates. I rarely go to outdoor shows, but
when I do, I prefer to not be soaked from head to toe, whether by rain or the
beer a fellow concert-goer recently purchased. Luckily, after some time we
passed the downpour and arrived to some light drizzling, with hopes the rain
wasn't stalking us.
After a bit of walking around, bypassing scalpers and other peddlers, we
picked up our tickets from the booth and made our way into the venue. I'd never
been to Jiffy Lube Live (formerly the Nissan Pavilion), so we quickly glanced at
the map nearby and followed everyone else around the path. Soon we heard sounds
of opening bands on the side-stages, which is exactly where we needed to be.
Meandering our way through the crowd in front of the Jagermeister stage, which
Fozzy was headlining, we arrived to the sounds of Sao Paulo-based band,
Cruz, who did a great rendition of Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff" featuring
P.O.D.'s Luis Castillo.
The way the festival's lineups work is that at each of the side stages, which
are directly beside each other, one band plays while the techs tear down and set
up for the following band on the other stage. This means that a lot of people
leave after each band ends and make their way over to the other stage,
presenting us with the opportunity to easily snag a place at the front-left of
the stage, setting up camp until Fozzy were to play several hours later. After
standing through several more bands at the Jager stage, Candlelight Red
and In This Moment, the latter of which was highly theatrical, filling the stage
with fences covered in skulls and twenty-foot white drapery hanging from the
microphone, it was time for Fozzy to play.
Unlike an indoor venue, there are no lights that can be dimmed, no surprising
arrival of the band. But as the backing track of the first song, "Spider In My Mouth",
began to play, and drummer Frank Fontsere stood and threw his hands to the sky,
the air was filled with anticipation nonetheless. Then the speakers exploded with
the opening riff, and the rest of the band hurled themselves on stage and began
an all-out assault on the waiting crowd.
Some bands write fantastic songs, but fall short live because they don't realize
that in addition to playing well, a show is also about knowing how to entertain.
Fozzy understand this all too well, and they're masters of getting the crowd involved.
Chris Jericho's years of working crowds over in professional wrestling, combined
with Rich Ward's experience in audience-antics with other bands like Stuck Mojo
make this duo a downright riot. Midway through the set, Jericho pulled a trick out
of Freddie Mercury's bag, replicating the Wembley call-and-response sing-along,
complete with the ending "F*ck You". Ward, in his own move of crowd involvement,
jumped offstage and into the audience while playing his guitar, letting them hold
him up as he ripped through the song.
Though the setlist was short, due to tight festival scheduling, the band packed a punch
that kept everyone itching for "one more". After the opening song, they jumped
right into the lead single, entitled "Sandpaper", off their new album, Sin And Bones,
which the whole crowd seemed to know the lyrics to already. Following this was
"God Pounds His Nails", once again featuring the audience as special guest vocalists
during the chorus, and then the Sin And Bones title track. Reaching back to the All
That Remains LP, they continued with their biggest hit, "Enemy", teasing the crowd
later in the song by lowering their volume and crouching down on stage, raising the
volume as they stood until the crowd was screaming, and then suddenly ducking down
and cutting the sound once more. To close, they brought us back to the present with
another new song -- sure to be a continuing live favorite-- "Blood Happens", that flows
from rapid fire bludgeoning to a mellow duel guitar interlude, only to come back to
smack you once more with a blistering solo, courtesy of Billy Grey!
While some bands let you know how much they love playing for you in their
words, this group of guys lets you know in every movement on (and off) the stage.
Whether it's the battle of backs between Ward and bassist Paul DiLeo, seeing
which one can keep playing while pushing the other into a hunch, or guessing
which guitarist Jericho can hit by spinning his microphone stand around like a
Weeble Wobble, you know they're having a good time. And after the music, they
all sat down to sign autographs for an hour, talking to each fan and letting them
know how much they appreciate them coming out to the show.
While some critics attempt to discredit the band as a serious musical entity due
simply to frontman, Jericho, being a professional wrestler, I believe they're
cheating themselves out of a good time. While he may not be a Bruce Dickinson
or Freddie Mercury, and most people aren't, he's a good singer who is growing
with each record release. Couple that with his and the rest of the band's ability
to please a crowd, and you've got a recipe for an entertaining time. Fozzy originally
joked about being HUGE ROCKSTARS, and I believe they're getting there. For
now, at the very least, they are our "party hosts". And what a hell of a party it is!
Welcome to the (possible) grand opening of B#! Right now, I'm investigating the amount of interest that anyone might have in the mess that is my writing. While I am testing those waters, I figured I would take a moment to open up this blog with a short introduction about myself.
I've had a longtime love of music, as many people can claim. However, just as intriguing to me as the music itself, I also found myself drawn to the reality of the music industry. I think it started with wanting to not only know an artist's songs, but to know about them on a more personal level - to understand their lives and where their songs came from. From this, came a desire to participate in the industry itself, even if I'd been informed of it's backstabbing nature. I spent about a year working for an indie record label, doing promotional work online and in-person, and taking periodic trips to New York City for meetings. While that career choice (more like part-time hobby) came to an end, my desire to keep my feet in the cesspool of the music industry hasn't waned. Enter this blog.
I've met some of my dearest friends thanks to music and the music industry. I hope through my writing, you get a chance to meet and know them a little better. Hopefully you all kick it off, because friendships are wonderful things.
So, for now, keep rockin' & let the metal flow.