Thursday, January 30, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: Bad Suns "Transpose"

BAD SUNS
Transpose
_______________________

I've become so
underwhelmed 
by the glut of 
current "music"
that I've felt
compelled to carve
out my eardrums
with a box cutter. 
Thank goodness 
I held off!
_______________________

Young, good-looking, energetic, articulate and possessing masterful pop / rock songwriting skills, Bad Suns is a beautiful beacon of shining light in an otherwise dismal new millennium music world.

Comprised of frontman / guitarist Christo Bowman, guitarist Ray Libby, bassist Gavin Bennett and drummer Miles Morris, the fresh-faced California-based combo first came together in 2012. By 2013, the band already was performing live alongside such modern-day stalwarts as The 1975 and The Vaccines. And by early 2014, their debut EP, Transpose, had arrived via Vagrant Records.

Produced by Eric Palmquist (The Mars Volta, Wavves, Trash Talk), the four-song Transpose is touted in the band's official press release as possessing "stadium ready anthems and undeniably catchy hooks" — BINGO!

A bona fide golden nugget, "Cardiac Arrest" immediately hooks and reels ya in. The engaging lyrics and infectious sing-along melody are best described (by me) as Taking Back Sunday-meets-Big Country at a Howard Jones house party. And it comes as no surprise (to me) that this clip has been racking up YouTube views at a fever-pitch.

BAD SUNS
The title track is a four-minute, bass-driven gem that oozes wonderfully ambient guitar work. It also possesses a Maroon 5-ish vocal quality (except it doesn't suck) and the "Ooh-oohs" are reminiscent of the first two Rooney records. "Salt" is another winner, combining rock-solid grooves with 80s-style high-energy authenticity.

"When I was 10, I started getting 
heavily interested in the guitar, 
and my dad began introducing 
me to his records from the 70’s 
and the 80’s. Initially Elvis
Costello, then to The Clash
The Cure, and so on."
-Christo Bowman

Clocking in at under three minutes, "20 Years" gets to the point (and the hook) in short order. Light and airy, it treads dangerously close at times toward 311-land. Yet despite the band members' youth (19 to 22 years old), the lyrics reflect a refreshing sense of poetic maturity — "20 years goes by so fast. How did I get here?" Uh, trust me, fellas — the next 20 years will be even more fleeting. However, a warning siren soon pierces my Pod as Bowman muses about "stumbling in the hallways" and "staying up for three days." Hmm. I sure hope these kids don't blow their ride — we've got enough Mileys, Gagas and Biebers already. What today's iGadget generation needs, and I believe is searching for, is a U2-caliber band with staying power. Bad Suns could be that band. And I'm psyched to hear their full-length debut that's slated for release later this year.

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)



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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ALICE "ROCKS" THE KING CENTER (1.28.14)

ALICE ROCKS 
WONDERLAND
King Center / Melbourne, FL
(1.28.14)
_______________________

There I was,
jazzed for a high-
energy, hometown
 stage production
— surrounded by
1,000+ cheering
fans, ALL under 
the age of — TEN!
_______________________

Under the supervision of director Karen Wilson (since 1997), the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts educational Theatre for Youth has presented programs to entertain and educate Florida kids here in Brevard County for nearly 20 years.

As I sat in the King Center audience yesterday morning, among throngs of elementary school age kids, I was reminded of what a treasure we have. As a kid growing up in the Midwest during the horse and buggy days of the early '70s, I never experienced the luxury of having a world-class venue in my hometown to offer these types of productions. Hence, today as a parent, I value the King Center, Ms. Wilson and their consistent commitment to community, culture and — education.

ALICE ROCKS WONDERLAND:
A quality production for the whole family.
Yesterday's show was quite a treat. Noel Holland and Don Gruel starred in Alice Rocks Wonderland, the Atlantic Coast Theatre adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

With a revised interpretation written by Gruel and original songs composed by Holland, the updated tale presents our beloved Alice in today's world — black leather jacket, iPod and all.

Yet despite the high-energy music, compelling story, colorful costumes and crazy characters, Alice  offered the audience more than just an appealing opportunity to ditch class.

NOEL HOLLAND
Fueling an interest in books and reading was the primary power point as Alice inspired and  entertained the young and young at heart.

Another valuable message came from a weird worm who encouraged kids to "use words wisely" and to "say what you mean, and mean what you say." Wow, I wish I'd gotten that memo at age ten!

When a character suggests that Alice is "too big," she demonstrates confidence and self-esteem by responding, "I quite like my size" — a powerful example for kids in today's world of bulimic super-models and social ridicule.


"When you read a book, it 
isn't about getting to the end 
of the story at all. It's about 
being in the middle of it — 
imagining that you are in 
the story — feeling what the
characters feel and sharing 
their adventures with them."
-from Alice Rocks Wonderland 

Hanging after the show with
Don Gruel (L) and Noel Holland (R)
Featuring all of the usual suspects — Alice, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter and of course, the Queen of Hearts, Alice Rocks Wonderland offered all of the ingredients necessary for an engaging youth production — music, singing, dancing, storytelling, audience participation and a host of educational messages. Kudos to Atlantic Coast Theatre and the King Center.

Stand by — the Theatre for Youth Program has a couple of more doozies coming our way this school year.

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)

For further info on these 
and other upcoming events, 
contact the King Center.


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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

TOP TEN DISCO HITS OF THE '70s

TOP TEN DISC
HITS OF THE '70s
_________________________

Today's topic is so hot and 
relevant that it will take
two geniuses to tackle it.
_________________________

I'm currently developing two book projects with my co-author and longtime friend, Bryan Dumas. As an accomplished bass player, Bryan has been involved with the music worship program at Word of Life Center in Shreveport, Louisiana for the last several years, while I mentor teens at a Christian church on Florida's east coast. This past weekend, Bryan and I were discussing some final details regarding our upcoming release, SHOUT IT OUT LOUD, when the subject of disco music entered into our long distance phone conversation. For nearly half an hour, we debated which tunes of that era were, in fact, the greatest. The following TWO lists are the result of that dialogue. When it comes to Jesus, Bryan and I always squarely see eye-to-eye. However, when it comes to disco dance hits, well, not so much...
MY LIST:

10
1978

35+ years later, this track still sizzles.


9
1976 

The sensuous vocals combined with 
that cowbell and the Alpert-like horn
track made this an instant mega hit.


8
1979  

Vintage M.J. — His best work!


7
1976 

Even as a kid, I knew that
this was stanky. (It still is!)


6
1978 

With a first hit, this hot,
she didn't need a second.


5
1979 

This track still packs more punch
than a six-pack of Red Bull.


4
"Shame"
1978 

As magical as ever!


3
1977 

So smooth, so sweet.
Sheer perfection.


2
1975 

The first-ever million-selling club
hit. But I'm still not sure just
what all that moaning was about.


1
1978 

The veteran rocker assembled an
all-star cast to create THE definitive
dance track of ALL-TIME!

-----------------------------

BRYAN'S LIST:

10
1977 

Bernard Edwards' pulsating
eight-plus minute bass line
— what could be better?


9
1978 

Many rock artists of the '70's had
their token disco song. Stewart's
was the most legit of the bunch.


8
1978 

One of the happiest songs ever written.
Featuring former KISS guitarist Vinnie 
Vincent (Cusano), Edgar Winter on
sax and guitarist G.E. Smith.


7
1979 

The cute Canadian teenager sounded
every bit of 15 on this dance gem.


6
1978 

You can't go to a wedding without
hearing "Always and Forever,"
but this bit of funk offers a better 
example of the band's true vibe.


5
1978 

"Y.M.C.A." gets all the play these days
but this one is what disco was all about.
No silly line dance though.


4
1975 

"That's The Way I Like It,"
"Shake Your Booty" and "I'm
Your Boogie Man," all started here.


3
"Boogie
Oogie Oogie"
1978 

This song is the reason
I play bass guitar.


2
1979 

I could have picked any of the Disco
Queen's hits for my list but there's just
something special about this one!


1
1976 

Disco owes a lot to the Brothers
Gibb. This is the cream of their
very impressive crop!
-----------------------------
HONORABLE 
MENTION
Best Disco Instrumental 
David Shire "Night on Disco Mountain

DISHONORABLE 
MENTION
Worst Disco Record 
-----------------------------

DISCLAIMER
Iconic, funky dance hits from the likes of Ohio Players, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Commodores and Parliament / Funkadelic were excluded from this list, as these acts stylistically are best classified as R&B / Funk / Soul.

Bryan and I hope that you've enjoyed our little time capsules and that maybe they've brought back some fond memories. Just wait 'til we tackle our next joint point post:  THE TOP TEN GREATEST MOVIES OF THE '80s. We probably won't agree on those either — stand by!

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)


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Monday, January 27, 2014

THE 56th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS

THE 56th ANNUAL
GRAMMY AWARDS
____________________________ 

A half-naked woman spreads 
her legs onstage, then 
seductively grinds and thrusts 
amid clouds of smoke and 
seizure-inducing strobe 
lights — all while lip
syncing to a vulgar backing 
track that must have had 
network censors in a frenzy
No, it wasn't a scene from a
newly-released porno flick — 
it was the prime time opening 
"performance" on last night's
Grammy Awards show.
____________________________ 

In the '70s, Richard Pryor released a slew of top-selling audio recordings of his outrageous comedy routines. A wildly successful entertainer, Pryor never was mistaken for a musician. However, in today's super-hip iWorld, the definition of a "musician" has been expanded to encompass anybody with a microphone — including a procession of first-rate thugs, second-rate pornographers and third-rate exhibitionists. Smokey who?

Embarrassingly unscripted — yet not without a clear-cut agenda, the 56th annual Grammy Awards  telecast provided a compelling commentary on our current culture. Here we are kids — welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah 2014.

Is rock and roll truly dead? C'mon, life support plugs were pulled on that one-legged geriatric 20 some years ago. The greater and more troubling question should be, is music dead? Well, if last night's production is any indicator, the answer is a resounding, "YES!"

Artists who've paid their dues and enjoyed decades-long success were sprinkled into a sea of crunk  characters — current hipsters intoxicated by an ego-driven adolescent sense of entitlement. It was sad watching legendary musicians trying to blend in among the ushers of the apocalypse whose only accomplishments during their meteoric 18-month careers have been avoiding jail time and generating 100,000,000+ views of their syncopated debut YouTube clips depicting every type of perversion.

Clearly, the "emperor" IS, in fact, naked. I liken today's music scene to a party where the host is a rich guy with nauseating B.O. He absolutely reeks but nobody dares acknowledge his pungency because he's the guy who's renting the penthouse and holding the blow. So rather than risking expulsion, everyone simply stands around, remaining silent while holding (and wiping) their noses and enjoying the spoils.

It was downright uncomfortable to watch as a world-famous, Oscar-winning actor stood fumbling nervously, offering desperate and disconnected apologies to the hip hop mogul seated in the front row while presenting the award in the "Best Fetish" category. I mean, c'mon — the lion's share of the evening's gold phonographs were awarded to a pair of robot producers. Robots? Really? Peter Frampton, Steven Tyler, Lindsey Buckingham, two Beatles and an Eagle all were at, or on, the show, yet this morning's news headlines all seemed focused on the award-winning robots. If this was 1978, you'd think I was making this stuff up!

Leaping about the stage, navigating through a choreographed routine and balancing from the rafters while mouthing words into a headset makes you a supremely talented gymnast — not a qualified or capable musician. But today's "extreme" sensibility dictates that we must be entertained — at all times. And if you're gonna distract us from our iScreens for even a few seconds, you better darn well have something more compelling to offer than some guy playing the guitar and singing a heartfelt song about his personal life experiences.

Elton John is a prime example of a music artist of the highest order. He's a true legend and a consummate pro. While I don't endorse his whole "picture," I respect and admire his undeniable talent and ability to convey completely his convictions through his music. "Captain Fantastic" never needed a pitchman to prompt viewers to "pay attention" because "this next song is powerful" — his music spoke for itself. And he certainly never has needed to utilize an over-the-top, self-indulgent televised production as a platform to preach personal perspectives.

But the Grammy show did succeed in projecting some clear messages — THERE IS NO VALUE IN VALUES. There's no value in writing songs, no value in playing instruments, no value in singing and no value in being prepared or professional. Sensationalism is king — and if you've got a smooth move or two and a robot producer who possesses mad computer skills, you too can AND should be a "music" star — a bona fide idol to be worshiped!

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

TOP 10 GREATEST SONGS OF THE '90s

TOP 10 GREATEST
SONGS OF THE '90s
______________________  

The '90s sucked —
plain and simple.
However, even a
dismal decade can
produce a few
golden nuggets. 
And these were the
best of the bunch.
______________________

Relax, kids  I know. Dimebag revolutionized rock guitar and Soundgarden was totally killer, dude. But this list is not intended to reflect the coolest bands, the tastiest riffs or even timeless albums. It's simply about celebrating great songs from a crappy decade.

 10
1994

A beautifully splendid
three-minute train wreck.


9
1999

This perky little gal combined
Olsen-like sizzle with all of the
perceived nuttiness of most of
my ex-girlfriends. This tune
is one of her best.


8
1998

I love the part in the video where
Ed Robertson slides across the 
hood of the Starsky mobile. 
Like Sting, I'm feeling tantric, too.


7
1996

This crunchy earworm proves that
"borrowing" from Cheap Trick can
make any band (temporarily) cool.


6
When it Rains"
1995
(That is all.)


5
1995

When this one hit, it was like a breath 
of fresh air. Rock and roll was back!


4
1995 

This band, particularly this song,
was THE beacon of glorious
light during a very dark era.


3
1998

The other lil' ol' band from Texas
packed punch and hooks galore.
This song reeled me in from the
first chorus. And Tony Scalzo
seems REALLY cool.


2
"Creep"
1993

The first time I heard this song, I thought
Brian Wilson had joined a grunge band.
20+ years later, it's still a magical treat.


1
1996

'60s soft pop collides with '90s alterno
at an old fashioned love-in. Undeniably
THE definitive song of the '90s. 
______________________ 

Wow, these truly were, and still are, amazing, timeless songs. But be sure that stringing together a handful of gems does NOT a great era make. Remember, the '90s was also the decade that wrought Tool, NSYNC and Wu-Tang Clan. But when the cream of the crop is chronicled in a concise capsule, even I can (briefly) reflect fondly on the otherwise dreadful era.

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)


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Friday, January 24, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: Jake Hamilton "Beautiful Rider"


JAKE HAMILTON
& THE SOUND
Beautiful Rider  
__________________________
  
Just when I thought
that this year's crop
of new music
was gonna suck,
WHAMMY
I discovered a gem!
__________________________

It's been three years since singer / songwriter / guitarist Jake Hamilton released his 2011 Top 10 sophomore effort, Freedom Calling. However, the one-time Jesus Culture worship leader has returned in 2014 with his band, The Sound, to offer a record that was well worth the wait — an energized, hard-hitting and passionate ten-song collection that can best be described as sounding like Jonny Lang-meets-Black Crowes at a Third Day aftershow party. Let's take a look at some highlights...

Packing plenty-o-punch and a mighty message, "Behold God is Great" is a songwriting collaboration between Hamilton and Dana Russell. This driving, alterno rocker serves as a powerful opener.

"I Love Your Presence" is a high-energy praise anthem accented by Seth Thomas' snappy "New Year's Day"-type drum work. And the hand claps actually sound like hand claps — bonus points, for sure. Every breath, is drawing you in. Come a little closer, come a little closer.

"Thank You" is a bona fide gem. Hamilton's honest and pure lyrics pinned against Dustin Lau's warm and rich keyboard / Fender Rhodes work makes for an engaging Magical Mystery Tour-meets-Tigerlily treat — but with a cooler message.

"I'm convinced there's no such 
thing as Christian music or art. 
I'm not going to compromise 
or remove the name of Jesus, 
but simply be a real person 
with real sound and message 
the world needs to hear."
-Jake Hamilton 

"Beautiful Rider" exemplifies the theory that less (production) is (often) more. Clocking in at just under six minutes, this predominantly piano / vocal epic offers a poignant description of Christ's return.

"Just Beyond the Breaking" not only is a beautiful poem, but also a fantastic showcase for Hamilton's impeccable acoustic guitar skills. The combination of his vulnerable vocal and the ambient background violin is simply magical. Mac Powell's chest swells with pride as he listens intently.

And then there's the cream of the crop, the pick of the litter, the best in show — "Never Let Me Down." This one is so gutsy, gritty, and downright fabulously funky, that it compels me to crack open a Red Bull and dance through the streets while shouting with reckless abandon.

JAKE HAMILTON
Seemingly inspired by Romans 7:15-25, "Save Me" is a high-octane, get-to-the-point rocker — a golden goodie, to be sure. And Brian Campbell's driving bass line only adds to the track's "burn" factor.

A final highlight, "My Ballad to the Church of Laodociea" is a collective songwriting effort between Hamilton and his band. Edgy and chaotic-sounding, it offers perhaps the record's most profound message / challenge to listeners...

Greed will blind you to 
your weakness and need.
The love of power is 
the devil's seed.
Don't put your trust in the
kingdoms of earth (and)
Don't climb a mountain 
with no eternal worth.

In a day when so much popular secular music serves as a mere platform to convey messages promoting the foolish lifestyles of its "artists," and contemporary Christian music seems controlled by "corporate" restraints, Beautiful Rider offers a bold breath of fresh air. BRAVO, JAKE!

-Christopher Long
(January 2014)

_______________________________

JAKE HAMILTON 
& THE SOUND
OFFICIAL WEBSITE 

Beautiful Rider
Get it NOW on iTunes
________________________________



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