Sunday, November 10, 2019

From Out of Nowhere (2019), by Jeff Lynne's ELO

If you like the sounds of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty – and Jeff Lynne – from the Traveling Wilburys era, you'll love this album.

No one captures the feel of classic pop and rock from the 1950s through the 1980s, with a modern twist, quite like Lynne, including the remaining artists from those decades.

This is Lynne's third ELO album of the 21st century, a century that has been kind to the veteran singer-songwriter with four high-quality releases (including the 2012 "solo" album, Long Wave) and a recent resurgence in popularity, cemented by the Hyde Park concert and the sold-out Wembley Stadium show.

As with all of his records of the last thirty years, Lynne plays most of the instruments, save for tambourines and shakers by Steve Jay and the piano solo on "One More Time" by longtime ELO bandmate Richard Tandy. Lynne manages to pull off sounding like a full-fledged band seemingly effortlessly.

Now 71 years old, Lynne is as energetic and youthful as ever, both as a singer and a musician, and shows no signs of slowing down. The album seems to be a harbinger of hopefully good things to come over the next decade.

While channeling a variety of influences, inspirations, and styles, Jeff Lynne continues to forge and evolve his own unique voice and vision.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Happy Birthday, Eric Johnson!

On Saturday, August 17, 2019, one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Johnson, turned 65 years old.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson in 1990 by an employee at a local cable television station I was interning at during my senior year of high school. That was the year Johnson, then 35/36 years old, released his breakthrough second album, Ah Via Musicom, which achieved the distinction of having three instrumental songs reach the American Top Ten.

Every one of Johnson's albums showcases his incredible electric guitar wizardry and his soft-spoken heartfelt vocals. His latest album is Collage.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Allan Holdsworth (August 6, 1946 – April 15, 2017)

This month marks what would have been Allan Holdsworth's 73rd birthday.

The late, great guitar master was born on August 6, 1946, in England and passed away at the age of 70 on April 15, 2017, in Southern California, where he had lived for over three decades.

I first heard of Holdsworth in the early 1990s when I read some reviews that described the instrumental albums of my favorite musician, Police guitarist Andy Summers, as partly Holdsworthian.

I began to read more about the legendary Holdsworth, finally buying my first album of his, Hard Hat Area, upon its release in 1994. I still remember eagerly and excitedly purchasing the CD at a record store in Greenwich Village.

I continued to buy Holdsworth's albums throughout the 1990s, culminating with the 2000 release of The Sixteen Men of Tain. Holdsworth put out one more solo album, Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie, in 2001, which I never got around to getting back then for one reason or another, and then Holdsworth went silent, save for the occasional guest appearance on other musicians' albums, as well as live performances and collaborative recordings.

I also lost touch with Holdsworth's happenings for nearly two decades, until April 15, 2017, when I read on Yahoo! News to my shock, disbelief, and dismay that Holdsworth had passed at 70 years of age. Heartbroken at both his loss and my obliviousness to his life for the previous 16 years, I immediately purchased his 12-CD box set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever!, and his 2-CD compilation, Eidolon, both released a week prior to his passing, and spent much of the next year immersed in the guitar and synthaxe brilliance of Allan Holdsworth.

In honor and remembrance of this amazing and unparalleled musical icon, I highly recommend the following albums as my top four picks, reviews of which can be found both on this site and on Amazon: With a Heart in My Song (with pianist Gordon Beck, 1988), Hard Hat Area (1994), The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000), and Then! (2003).

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, April 12, 2019

Absolute Zero (2019), by Bruce Hornsby

After dillydallying with the dulcimer, Bruce Hornsby is back on the keys with one of his best, most atmospheric, and most cinematic albums ever.

Nearly all the tracks feature Hornsby’s trademark piano and synthesizer stylings, but in a much more subdued, impressionistic, and brilliantly minimalist fashion.

Several songs also feature horns and strings, giving the generally contemplative and introspective music orchestral and symphonic gravitas.

The album plays like a compendium of Hornsby’s best genre-bending sounds over the years, intersecting everything from pop and progressive rock to classical and jazz.

And Hornsby, now in his mid-60s, takes his often multi-tracked vocals to places he hasn’t in a long time.

The album contains several stunners, including the title track, "Never in This House," and "Take You There." However, "Voyager One" especially stands out with its highly infectious funk groove, sounding very much like a cross between Stevie Wonder and Sting.

Speaking of which, Absolute Zero is similar in spots to some of Sting’s solo work. The comparison isn’t so far off as Hornsby and Sting were both iconic ’80s hit makers with ears for jazz.

Regardless of influences and inspirations, the album is all Bruce Hornsby, who, in a welcome return to form, has created an exquisite work of sonic art that does indeed take the artist, his music, and those of us fortunate enough to listen and hear, "there."

--Raj Manoharan

Rehab Reunion (2016), by Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Bruce Hornsby is at his best when he’s playing piano and synthesizers, with or without vocals, so it’s understandable that this record, in which he trades in his keyboards for a dulcimer, is a little off the beaten path.

But then again, Hornsby has always taken the road not taken.

The dulcimer seems to be far more limited in range and versatility than Hornsby’s ebonies and ivories, capable of only a few chords if even, and almost all the songs sound like they’re in the same key. Maybe this is because Hornsby is new to playing the instrument solely and exclusively for a whole album.

However, the music does have a certain folksy, Appalachian appeal, thanks in part to Hornsby’s typically incisive and penetrating songwriting and vocals, as well as the brilliant arrangements and performances of his backup band of the last two decades.

Highlights include “Over the Rise,” “Soon Enough,” “M.I.A. in M.I.A.M.I.,” “Tropical Cashmere Sweater” – easily the best chorus on the album – and “Celestial Railroad.”

Rehab Reunion may not be what most people expect from Hornsby, but its charming, grassroots, bluegrass Americana is enough to carry the water for the ever faithful.

--Raj Manoharan

Dick Dale (1937-2019)

King of the surf guitar.

--Raj Manoharan

Jan-Michael Vincent (1945-2019)

Icon of the ’80s.

--Raj Manoharan