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CD REVIEWS: Discs from Erasure, Buffalo Tom, The Cranberries and Amy Ray

Mute Records
"Tomorrow's World" by Erasure
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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CD
REVIEWS
:

1.    
Buffalo
Tom – Skins  (Scrawny Records) 2011

Released last year, the eighth
studio album from Boston-based alt-rock band Buffalo Tom, Skins,  proved to be a real gem of a record and
reminded me why I dug them so much in the early-to-mid 1990’s when they made
that cameo on a 1994 episode of My
So-Called Life
with nerdy-cool girl Claire Danes.

Yeah, Big Red Letter Day, featuring the melancholy hits “Sodajerk” and
“I’m Allowed” (“Late at Night” was effectively featured in that My So-Called Life ep., I should add …)
were in my CD collection in those days and by 2000 Buffalo Tom was one of those
many Nineties alt-rock bands I had lost track of. I mean, after “Taillights
Fade” …

But I recently rediscovered the
work of Bill Janovitz (guitars, vocals), Chris Colbourn (bass, vocals) and Tom
Maginnis (drums) and I liked what I heard – a lot.

Things get off to a surprisingly
slow start with the swirling, waltz-like track “Arise, Watch” and a
Colbourn-led jangle-rocker called “She’s Not Your Thing” helps things pick up a
bit.

And by the time we reach track
three – “Down” – confidently blasting out of the speakers, that old Buffalo Tom
I knew and loved back in that ’93-’95 time period seemed to be back. Janovitz’s
bittersweet and gravelly vocal is as good as ever and that piercing ache
remains as it did in those early days of the Clinton administration.

“Here I Come” has a galloping beat
that is also generous with its melody while “Guilty Girls” is a decent,
Replacements-esque, Heartland rocker.

And then the band hits us with a
surprise – Janovitz and Belly’s Tanya Donnelly sharing vocals on a sweet,
mandolin-fueled ballad called “Don’t Forget Me.” Another late-night bar closer,
“Paper Knife,” has enough of an edge to keep you awake before you drift off to
sleep.

And speaking of sleep, Colbourn
takes the lead once again on “The Kids Just Sleep,” a beefy rocker with a surprisingly
live-in-your-living-room feel about it.

Some may see a new album from a
band like Buffalo Tom as a study in college-rock nostalgia. Actually I found a
lot of solid, tuneful rock songs featuring different tempos and flourishes of
folk instrumentation, as on the aforementioned “Don’t Forget Me.” It’s great to
have a solid trio like Buffalo Tom back on the scene again reminding us why
much of the 90’s music blows away the majority of stuff passed off as “rock”
these days.

And as an aside, the deluxe version
features another disc called “Bones,” appropriately enough, since its basically
demos of the songs featured here. It also features black-and-white  band postcards and my package came with a
vinyl version of the album and a comfy T-shirt. Worth picking up over at www.buffalotom.com.

2.    
The
Cranberries – Roses  (Cooking Vinyl) 2012

Okay, okay … I’ve come across
another 90’s rock band that is back out with a new record. This time it’s Irish
rock quartet The Cranberries and frankly my expectations were not very high.
But I always like being pleasantly surprised, and in the case of the
recently-released Roses, I was
pleasantly surprised. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since
the release of their last album, Wake Up
and Smell the Coffee
.

And I think we have not only the
band to thank but also Stephen Street, one of my favorite alt-rock record
producers. I still swoon over the work he did with Morrissey when The Smiths
lead singer went solo.

“Conduct,” the album opener, is a
slow-burner that is reminiscent of golden age Cranberries (think 1994’s No Need To Argue) while guitarist Noel
Hogan’s jingle-jangling guitar, balancing out Dolores O’Riordan’s vocal, helps
“Tomorrow” really shine.

O’Riordan, who likes a little drama
in her lyrics, really digs into “Schizophrenic Playboys” a song that
incorporates a familiar phrasing that brings to mind the band’s 1996 hit “Free
to Decide,” featured on To the Faithful
Departed
. The lyrics are actually a little preachy but hey, no one ever
accused Dolores O’Riordan of being subtle, just check out “Show Me,” for
instance.

Listen to “Astral Projections.” As
drummer Fergal Lawler keeps a keen and restrained beat and Hogan offers up some
washes of guitar, O’Riordan sings about leaving her body: “Can you see the colors in the air? Can you see? Am I hallucinating? I
woke up and I was walking down the stairs / I woke up and I’m still sleeping
here / Is this lucid dreaming, yeah

Very cool and a bit trippy.

Somewhere midway through the album,
a song like “Raining in My Heart” with its dreamy chords and k.d. lang-esque
accordion flourishes presents itself in a most appealing way. It is the sort of
song that would have fit quite comfortably on an earlier album. It’s as if they
band didn’t learn a gosh darn thing since the mid-1990’s – and to this pop-rock
fan, that’s a good thing.

The rest of the album has some
equally memorable moments. The folk-pop electronica of “Losing My Mind” has a
chorus that packs a punch of pure ecstasy. The last two tracks – the peaceful,
easy feelings of “So Good” and the title track, with its Celtic overtones –
wrap things up in a fine manner. There may not be a song as powerful as
“Linger” of “Zombie” but it is an older, wiser and slightly-more restrained
Cranberries and at this stage of their career, it works well.

Go to www.cranberries.com for more information.

3.    
Amy
Ray – Lung of Love  (Daemon Records) 2012

Having followed the Indigo Girls
since the release of 1989’s Indigo Girls,
which featured unforgettable hits like “Closer to Fine” and “Kid Fears,” of the
two members of the group – Emily Saliers and Amy Ray – I tended to favor the
prettier songs written and sung by Saliers. I guess it was just a matter of
maturity on my part. Ray’s songs were a little more abrasive and in-your-face.
But that’s one of the reasons I liked the Indigo Girls so much. Saliers and Ray
complimented each other so well. And while Saliers has eschewed the solo route,
Ray has embraced it and even started her own record label – Daemon – there in
the Atlanta area.

I really dug Stag and Prom and with Lung of Love, Ray’s sixth solo disc in a
decade’s time, the grittier half of the Indigo Girls has simply gotten better
with these 10 songs.

With help from
producer/multi-instrumentalist/song collaborator Greg Griffith, Ray offers up
“When You’re Gone, You’re Gone” as the opening track (yeah, Yim Yames of My
Morning Jacket is one of those background voices). The urgent, 70’s-styled
pop-rock of “Glow” is reminiscent of an earlier Ray song, “Driver Education.”
That “baa-baa-baa-baa” chorus is a slice of joy, or as Ray would sing, “the
best day I ever had.”

Ray, who admits to having a “little
Joe Strummer in my DNA,” has a good ol’ time on the bouncy pop-rock gem “Little
Revolution,” featuring members of the Butchies – drummer Melissa York and
guitarist Kaia Wilson – giving it a little extra punch.

Bringing to mind some of that late
90’s-era Indigo Girls (Shaming of the Sun
& Come On Now Social,
specifically) with the folk instrumentation, Ray pulls out the mandolin and
gets some dobro action from Scott Manring on the back-in-the-holler
country-folk stomper “The Rock Is My Foundation.”  This is something I could imagine country
stars Brad Paisley or Dierks Bentley tackling, were they in a trad mood.

Ray, with assistance from vocalist
Brandi Carlile, also shines on “Bird in the Hand,” a fairly straightforward
song about getting someone to realize they’ve got something good right where
they’re at, has “radio single” potential in my mind.

Drummer Melissa York is clearly in
control of the beat on the broad and confident title track, one of the
strongest songs on the disc.

Love certainly has its
ups-and-downs and Ray captures that on “I Didn’t” while the socially conscious
Ray – known for her activism on gay rights, Native American issues and the
environment, among many others – tackles the tough situation in post-quake
Haiti on “From Haiti.” It’s a bit of a spare rocker but pure Amy Ray.

Check out more at www.amy-ray.com

4.    
Erasure
Tomorrow’s World  (Mute Records) 2011

Many years have passed since the
hitmaking heyday of Erasure’s synth-pop confections graced the pop-radio
airwaves and we danced to late 80’s nuggets like “A Little Respect” and “Chains
of Love.”

Actually, singer Andy Bell and
synth-man Vince Clarke have been quietly releasing some solid pop albums over
the past decade or so.

Back in 2003 they released Other
People’s Songs, a collection of covers that included Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury
Hill” and Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways.” Since then, the duo have put out some
really solid records including Nightbird
(2005) and Light at the End of the World
(2007).

With Frankmusik producing, Bell and
Clarke offer up nine songs on Tomorrow’s World and while it’s not as good as,
say, the aforementioned Nightbird (a
melancholy affair released after Bell was diagnosed as HIV positive) but I
attribute that to the overtly modern methods of making songs. Like, why did
Bell allow his wonderful voice to be Auto-Tuned on the dancefloor number “Whole
Lotta Love Run Riot”? Hopefully this pervasive Auto-Tune trend runs its course.

But numbers like “When I Start To
(Break It All Down)” come along and all is forgiven. Bell’s vocals at the
forefront, Clarke admirably helping to keep the rhythm and melody in sync. In
fact, if I’m not mistaken, Clarke must have pulled out some 1988-era synths for
this track. Nice touch.

Singing about reflecting on a rocky
relationship, Bell’s flamboyant delivery is believable as if he is going through
it right then and there. I get that same impression on “Just When I Thought It
Was Ending,” where Bell reaches some lower notes almost effortlessly. This has
pure pop potential and is an example of the 2000’s-era Erasure.

The current single, the buoyant and
melodic “Fill Us With Fire,” is classic Erasure. Bell’s vocal is as good as its
ever been and Clarke’s inventive synth work (note the 80’s-styled video-game
sound effects peppered throughout).

Interestingly, on “Then I Go
Twisting,” you are reminded that Erasure is more than just run-of-the-mill
disco. While it’s catchy, Bell sings: “Then
I go insane / I’m bored of this modern town / Sick of this techno / Mono-phonic
sound
.” Indeed!

“I Lose Myself” has an ABBA-esque urgency
that has Bell rhyming “shoulder” and “told ya” in a way that only this
well-seasoned popmeister can deliver.

A second disc with Tomorrow's World includes a number of demos and remixes that are worth checking out, particularly the Gareth Jones remixes of "I Lose Myself" and "Fill Us With Fire."

To learn more about Erasure, go to www.erasureinfo.com.

Copyright
2012 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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