BILL DeMAIN – Extended Stay EP

Extended Stay EPBy the end of 2011, Bill DeMain had already released nine albums as one half of Swan Dive (a band who’s 2009 release ‘Mayfair’ featured several co-writes with cult singer-songwriter David Mead), but surprisingly, this 2012 EP marks his first foray into recording as a solo artist.  The release of ‘Extended Stay’ comes at the end of a distinctly wobbly time for the Nashville singer-songwriter, first having his home flooded – losing various irreplaceable notebooks in the process – followed by losing that home entirely due to a fire; a fire which lost him 80% of his belongings.  The title and suitcase adorning the sleeve represent the bohemian existence DeMain was forced to adopt for a year following the disasters.

Given the events which preceded the EP’s release, you might think ‘Extended Stay’ would be a soul-searching, perhaps even naval-gazing, downbeat affair. Yes, it’s largely structured around pieces written for acoustic guitar or piano and yes, in places, there’s often a focus on the lyrics; it’s even possible to say most of the tunes have a softness and reflective quality uniting them, yet somehow it rarely feels like a down release.

The main hook from the opening cut works around its title, ‘Looking for a Place to Live’, yet bizarrely, the lyric pre-dates the fire.  DeMain’s soft wocal style weaves a pleasant melody against an equally lovely finger-picked guitar, as the time signature is laid out in a foot-tapped rhythm (not unlike McCartney’s well-worn composition ‘Blackbird’).  That’s enough to make the tune work on its own merits, but as it progresses, DeMain brings in some harmony voices, a cello and electric piano to fill out the arrangement.  In all, it’s one of the EP’s most enduring cuts.  Need another incentive to check out this tune?  It’s co-written with another Nashville musician, Daniel Tashian, who is one of the finest pop writers of his age; in fact, ‘Chateau Revenge!’, the 2010 release from Tashian’s band The Silver Seas ranks among the finest retro-pop/power pop releases ever.   Although retaining an acoustic backbone, ‘St. Joes ’75’ has a more flippant mood, coming as it does with more than a dash of rhythmic inspiration from Bowie’s ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, before morphing into something that sounds like T.Rex reworking an idea from Brian Wilson.  DeMain sounds solid vocally and the acoustic work provides a good basis, but for that all-round 1970s feel  – which it’s obvious DeMain is striving for – the saxophone is key.  There are plenty of saxes throughout these three-and-a-half minutes, pushed high in the overall mix; at times the sax work appears jaunty, at others, just a little too obtrusive.  As a disposable piece of glam-tinged pop it works well enough, though its religious bent mightn’t be well received by all.

Perhaps the EP’s best tune overall, ‘Common Love Song’ combines guitar and piano on a mid-paced arrangement which has a McCartney-ish air.  More specifically, it’s a number which could have graced any number of Wings albums in the 70s.  After what sounds like it could’ve been a false start, DeMain’s smooth vocal calls out gently above a drum beat and simple piano chords.  This would have been a good enough number as is, but a ringing guitar on the chorus gives things a slight lift.  To hammer home the seventies-ness (and the track’s only real weak link), some ugly, unquestionably dated keyboards fill a space which could have been better filled by a tasteful guitar solo.  There’s a fine line between cool and retro and trying too hard…and DeMain comes dangerously close to crossing that line here, but since most of ‘Common Love Song’ sounds like an almost classic piece of singer songwriter pop, he can be excused!

The rest of the EP takes on an often more subtle vibe.  ‘In Your Letter’ offers a very interesting piano melody, over which DeMain’s vocal is fairly saccharine, but totally sympathetic to the mood.  As with ‘Looking For a Place to Live’, it’s the addition of strings which really gives the tune strength.  Vocally, however, there’s nothing striking here – though perhaps “obviously striking” was never DeMain’s intention; even the best cuts on this EP can take a few spins before they start to take a hold.  More analog synths appear in the middle of ‘Honeylove’, an otherwise sweet acoustic ditty.  Short and simple, it’s DeMain’s vocal which really carries this song.  As a standalone track, it may not feel like much, but as part of the complete picture, it’s another good example of DeMain’s gentle touch as a songwriter.  ‘In Your Letter’ and ‘Honeylove’ definitely don’t hold as much magic as some of the better tunes here, but it’s unlikely you’ll find the urge to skip either of them.

With its hint of New York and Randy Newman, ‘Raggedy Man’ (a co-write with David Mead) is reminiscent of parts of Mark Bacino’s ‘Queens English’.  As a piano and kazoo lead their way through a well constructed but – on the surface – somewhat childlike arrangement, it’s hard not to feel that DeMain isn’t channelling Newman’s often untrustworthy narrator.  For those who’ve always enjoyed things in such a style, it’ll almost certainly have a little charm, especially for those who’ve followed Swan Dive’s works.

‘Extended Stay’ isn’t a bad EP by any means, not bad at all, but in a few places it lacks that extra spark.  So far into a cult career, it’s great that DeMain has felt the need to stretch his legs and explore a few (slightly) different musical avenues, but, with the sheer amount of singer-songwriter material out there just waiting to be discovered, this is a release which feels like a solid collection filler as opposed to the essential item it could have been.

January 2012

Queensrÿche and Ratt confirmed for US Festival

Queensrÿche, Ratt and Cinderella have been confirmed to appear at the 2012 M3 Festival, alongside other classic rock artists from the 80s.

The M3 Festival is to be held in Maryland on May 11th and 12th.  So far, the list of acts confirmed to appear across two days on stages are as follows:

Friday, May 11:
NIGHT RANGER
KIX
ENUFF Z’NUFF
IN THE PINK
LET THERE BE ROCK

Saturday, May 12:
QUEENSRŸCHE
CINDERELLA
RATT
SKID ROW
WARRANT
QUIET RIOT
DOKKEN
STRYPER
LOUDNESS
LYNCH MOB
XYZ
BANG TANGO
DRUM WARS
STREET LIGHT CIRCUS

Tracklists announced for forthcoming Thin Lizzy reissues

As previously reported, Thin Lizzy’s 1974 and 1975 releases ‘Night Life’ and ‘Fighting’ are to get the two-disc deluxe edition treatment, bringing them up to date with recent reissues of ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Johnny The Fox’ and ‘Black Rose’.

The official tracklists for both reissues has now been announced and can be seen below.

NIGHT LIFE:

Disc 1
She Knows
Night Life
It’s Only Money
Still In Love With You
Frankie Carroll
Showdown
Banshee
Philomena
Sha-La-La
Dear Heart
Disc 2
She Knows – BBC Session 3/10/1974
Sha-La-La – BBC Session 3/10/1974
It’s Only Money – BBC Session 3/10/1974
Philomena – BBC Session 3/10/1974
Dear Heart – BBC Session 23/10/1974
Banshee – BBC Session 23/10/1974
Showdown (Demos With Gary Moore)
Still In Love With You (Demos With Gary Moore)
It’s Only Money (Demos With Gary Moore)
Showdown (Unreleased)
Still In Love With You (Unreleased Alternate Take)

FIGHTING:

Disc 1
Rosalie
For Those Who Love To Live
Suicide
Wild One
Fighting My Way Back
King’s Revenge
Spirit Slips Away
Silver Dollar
Freedom Song
Ballad Of A Hard Man
Disc 2
Half Caste (B Side to Rosalie)
Rosalie (US Album Mix)
Half Caste – BBC Session 29/05/1975
Rosalie – BBC Session 29/05/1975
Suicide – BBC Session 29/05/1975
Ballad Of A Hard Man (Unreleased Alternate Take)
Try A Little Harder (Unreleased)
Fighting My Way Back (Unreleased Alternate Take)
Song For Jesse (Unreleased)
Leaving Town (Unreleased)
Blues Boy Unreleased)
Leaving Town (Unreleased)
Spirit Slips Away (Unreleased Alternate Take)
Wild One (Unreleased Alternate Take)
Bryan’s Funky Fazer [Silver Dollar] (Unreleased)

Half of the bonus materials on the new edition of ‘Night Life’ have already seen release at the end of 2011 as part of the extensive ‘Live at the BBC’ box set, but there are still a few unreleased cuts to tempt fans, while the wealth of unreleased material on ‘Fighting’ make it an essential item for most Lizzy fans.

There has been a small amount of bad news regarding the pending reissues, however: originally slated for a February release, the new editions of ‘Night Life’ and ‘Fighting’ are now not expected to appear until 12th March.

Staind’s Aaron Lewis receives two country music award nominations

Staind vocalist Aaron Lewis has received two award nominations for his 2011 solo single ‘Country Boy’. The nominations are from the Academy of Country Music, and the ceremony takes place on February 1st 2012.

‘Country Boy’ comes from Lewis’ first solo release, the critically acclaimed ‘Town Line’, which reached #7 on the US Billboard 200 chart and #1 on Billboard’s Country chart.

You can watch the video for ‘Country Boy’ below and read a review of ‘Town Line’ here.

COASTLAND RIDE – On Top Of The World

Nine years is a long time between albums by anyone’s standards, but that’s exactly how long it took the Swedish AOR trio Coastland Ride to follow up their 2003 debut.  Now signed to the German label Avenue of Allies (home to the superb State Cows), ‘On Top of the World’ features a brilliant selection of well-written tunes, bolstered father by some classy musicianship.  Like fellow Scandinavians Crossfade – whose second release had a similarly extended gestation period – it could easily be said that this was a band worth waiting for.  Some things just cannot be rushed.

Giving the album a strong start, ‘Act of Faith’, has all the hallmarks of great melodic rock from the early 90s. Coastland Ride choose begin with all guns blazing, offering a brilliantly played lead guitar break during the intro (courtesy of fellow Swede Sven Larsson of Street Talk fame), before settling into the bulk of the song.  Here, you’ll find a blanket of keyboards, some very melodic vocals and a killer chorus.  You’ve heard it all time and again, but when done well, such retro rock chops cannot be beaten.  The track is topped off with a great solo – again, the work of Larsson – to create an opener which guarantees you’ll keep listening.  ‘Wait’ explores similarly tried and tested formulas, but – if anything – achieves a much better result.  The featured chorus is a match for most of the supposedly “classic” tracks of the genre, dripping with harmonies and the kind of key-changes which guarantee enjoyment.

‘Wait’, as a stand-alone track, would be enough alone to recommend checking out this release, but this is a band with even more great music waiting to be heard.  The title cut dispenses with some of the guitars, concentrating instead on keyboard work; a mix of 80s keys and old-fashioned 70s electric piano provide the basis of a great piece of Westcoast pop which sounds like a tune which could have graced a Hall & Oates album from the 1980s.  Harmonies abound, it proves the band to be great singers as well as songwriters and arrangers.  ‘Nail Me To The Cross’ showcases a much harder side to Coastland Ride.  We’re not talking anything metallic, per se, since it’s still delivered in a very adult and melodic fashion; it’s just the guitars are much chuggier and the general attitude a little harder all round.  In all, it’s all rather more Toto’s ‘Kingdom of Desire’ as opposed to ‘Toto IV’, and of course, this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad track.  On the plus side, the vocal performances display a certain degree of rock edge and the featured guitar solo is another good one.  However, on the negative, the programmed drums seem a touch out of place.  Despite best intentions, it’s no match for the Coastland Ride’s very naturalistic performances heard elsewhere.

Following a rather clunky intro, ‘Save You From Yourself’ descends into yet another keyboard laden verse, over which Markus Nordenberg sounds extremely comfortable in his role as lead vocalist, hitting smooth, long notes with ease.  Just as you’re probably wondering what that odd intro was all about, it makes a return for the chorus: slightly edgy, very much at odds with the verses.  And yet, Coastland Ride balls it out, laying solid three part harmonies over the top in a way which really ought not to work, but somehow does.  The marching beat which drives ‘Lodestar’ appears a little throwaway at first, but the song is home to a pleasing, upfront bassline, over which Nordenberg adds another strong vocal.  By the time the chorus rolls around, the other chaps lay on the usual amount of harmonies to flesh out the sound.  Finding space for a guitar solo with a tone which hints at jazz-rock as opposed to AOR brings another nice touch.  Although this track may be more disposable than some of the other offerings, it would be a lie to suggest it isn’t enjoyable for what it is.

‘Second Chance’ makes great use of stabbing keyboards, which have an unashamed early 80s quality which would make Toto smile.  What quickly becomes an unmissably upbeat tune is then taken to new level of goodness when Coastland Ride’s bring their knack for choruses and harmonies back to the fore.  A particularly parpy saxophone solo does its utmost to spoil the brilliant mood, but thankfully makes a fairly swift exit.  Saxophone aside, this track could rival the aforementioned State Cows’ debut release for Westcoast loveliness.  Both this  track and ‘On Top of The World’ could be a different band to that featured on the opening pair of numbers, but both sides of Coastland Ride’s style are equally enjoyable for different reasons.

Boasting a big spoken word intro, ‘Jericho Falls’ is much bigger – much pompier – than your average Coastland Ride tune.  Quickly, the listener is immersed in a wave of mechanical rhythms and very 80s keyboards, while vocally, it retains a sense of the theatrical with the deep-toned spoken voice continuing to fill the verses in a similar mood.  This is counterbalanced by a female (sung) voice and the eventual appearance of regular vocalist Markus Nordenberg, delivering a chorus much like you’re expecting.  Kudos to Coastland Ride for attempting to create something a bit more adventurous; it might not have the long lasting appeal of their best work, but there are some great moments here.

If there’s any small criticism to be made regarding ‘On Top of The World’ as a whole album, it’s that more live sounding drums would have been a plus.  While there’s little doubt that a lot of the percussion is programmed – and to be fair, it doesn’t often present itself in a way which detracts from the overall of the music – a real drummer still cannot be beaten.  On the whole, though, this second release from Coastland Ride is a hugely, hugely enjoyable affair, with choruses aplenty and a generally great vibe throughout.  Some may sneer and call it unfashionable, but what the hell…for AOR/Westcoast devotees, this is an album which comes highly recommended indeed.

January 2012