MUSIC REVIEWS: AC/DC, Mavis Staples, Brightblack Morning Light, Paper Route, I Am Ghost
AC/DC’s new album, Black Ice, is one of their most legitimate and extensive albums since their 1980 release Back in Black and in some ways they both might be considered bookends. The AC/DC sound is classic but the intensity and musical variation in the album really makes it special. The album is loaded with 15 tracks that old school fans will eat up like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train,” “Big Jack,” and “Smash ‘N Grab.”
One highlight is hearing Malcolm and Angus Young, whose patented rhythm and lead guitar is so often the backbone in AC/DC tunes, show off their playing with some interesting variations such as slide guitar on “Stormy May Day” as well as some more bluesy inspired playing on tracks like “Decibel” (although it sounds frighteningly similar to ZZ Top). The album also features singer Brian Johnson taking a break from all the screaming and bringing it down a little with some smoother singing in songs like “Rock n’ Roll Dream” and “Rocking All The Way.” The songs have a vibrant energy to them and the album feels more thought out and sophisticated than the past few efforts. The real key to the album is dropping the word rock as often as you can- the album rocks n’ the rock rocks so long live rock!
It was definitely a homecoming for gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples on her latest effort, Mavis Staples Live: Hope at the Hideout. This intimate, yet electrifying performance was recorded this past summer in Chicago. Staples not only revisited her hometown, but on Live: Hope at the Hideout she also rediscovered the musical foundation of our country. As a member of The Staples Singers, known for classics like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself,” she along with her siblings and her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, found their musical roots in the heart of The Civil Rights Movement.
From hymns and spirituals to protest songs, The Staples Singers became an important musical force during a turbulent time in America. And in today’s hard times, the songs on Live: Hope at the Hideout remain relevant. The show was kicked off with a rousing cover of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” For Staples, these spirituals and protest songs were also deeply personal. On “Down in Mississippi,” she recalls how she witnessed the “For Coloreds Only” signs taken down thanks to the efforts of Dr. King, while “We Shall Not Be Moved” recounts when she along with fellow protestors refused to leave after being denied service at a restaurant in the South. The quality of Staples’ low singing voice is gravel-tinged and heavily steeped in the gospel tradition where at times, you feel as though you’re a parishioner at church. Her three-piece band, especially Rick Holmstrom’s melodious guitar, adds the right balance of traditional rhythm and blues to Staples’ stirring gospel sound. Live: Hope at the Hideout is a reminder of how strength and courage will once again prevail just as it has for civil rights champions like Mavis Staples.
Brightblack Morning Light do not make music for the impatient or the inattentive. They craft soft, slow songs that are in no hurry to get where they are going. On their latest effort, Motion to Rejoin, they have created an album of slow, beautiful music that trickles from the speakers and into the listener’s ears in a gentle, unhurried fashion.
Recorded in a hut in New Mexico, this latest effort sounds like the Cowboy Junkies circa The Trinity Session recorded sludgier, slower, and with the vocalists fifteen feet from the microphone. This is not a bad thing. Songs unfold slowly and softly, rewarding patient and repeated listens, revealing layers of beauty that are hidden at first listen. All told, there’s no reason not to take a slow meandering ride with Brightblack Morning Light.
Paper Route debuts with their new EP Are We All Forgotten from the emerging Nashville scene. These rockers have something completely fresh and unique to bring to the ever-popular electro-trance rock scene.
Reminiscent of a cross between Journey and the Postal Service, Paper Route paints a picture of a big hair trippy band with strong drums and guitar riffs, combined with surreal abstract vocals and the killer use of digital technology currently defining indie rock.
The title track “Are We All Forgotten” is arguably their best song. It sounds like something from the “Garden State” soundtrack with its dreamy feel and introspective lyrics looking for more out of life.
While having only five songs, this band is just showing us that an EP is not enough. They have great potential to be an asset to the future of music. Here’s looking forward to more.
I Am Ghost proudly proclaim all that they are in their name. Unfortunately, all that they are isn’t all that much. The name of the band and album declare blandly an affiliation with the pack of black clad emotionally unstable scream-bands that disgruntled mallrats love so well.
The music sounds like it was made from a formula: take one subject, suitably morbid and if possible also dripping with heartbreak, add guitars that skirt the line between playful punk and metal-assault, stir in a dollop of screaming vocals, unleash on angsty teenagers, stock t-shirts at Hot Topic.
With songs titles like “Rock N’ Roll High School Murder” and “Smile of a Jesus Freak,” I Am Ghost fail to deliver anything new or interesting in their genre. Worth listening to only for those looking to find a new band that their fellow scream-o fans aren’t already wearing t-shirts for.