Friday, July 4, 2008

NEW ALBUMS: John Mayer, Los Lonely Boys, Guns N' Roses

JOHN MAYER - Where The Light Is: Live in Los Angeles

The young pop/blues/guitar virtuoso comes at us this week with his third "official" live album (once before with his regular band in 2002, and then again with the John Mayer Trio on 2005) - and this time, it's cinematic!

This 2-CD set is also being released with a concert film of the same performance - a rare show on a December night in 2007, containing an acoustic set, a "Trio" set, and a full band set.

Overall, this isn't anything amazing as a new release.  There are no new songs, and only a couple rare songs featured here, making this a live set of tracks that we've really already heard a few times performed basically the same way.

The first disc starts off with the acoustic stuff which does, however, feature a relatively perviously hard-to-find track in the acoustic set; "In Your Atmosphere," a particularly old-J.M. style heartbreak-ballad.  (The lyrics indicate that it may be a byproduct of one of his several failed relationships to hollywood starlets: "I don't know what it's like to land and not race to your door - I don't think I'm gonna go to L.A. anymore.")  And the acoustic set is rounded out with a heartfelt, sentimental, and beautifully sappy cover of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "Free Fallin'."  His cover depicts the song's story (of a man who's come to the realization that he's abused the perfect love) with such drama and poetic irony on a level to which the original doesn't even compare.

Then, the John Mayer Trio set (featuring the talents of Steve Jordan on drums and Pino Paladino on bass) includes many of the same songs that were on the 2005 "Try!" release, and, perhaps due to the larger venue size on this performance, with less electricity as the Trio's debut.  This one includes two Jimi Hendrix covers ("Wait Until Tomorrow" and "Bold As Love"), and kicks off with a deep, rich and powerful cover of the Memphis Slim blues standard, "Everyday I Have The Blues".  But everything else in this set is kind of the same old thing we've heard before, to a much larger crowd, unfortunately dispersing the same amount of energy to far too many people, and the difference is audible.  Still great music, though.

The second disc is made up entirely of the good old John Mayer band, performing a large portion of Mayer's most recent studio album, Continuum, tossing in the crowd pleasers, "Why Georgia" and the bluesy, John Scofield rendition of Ray Charles' "I Don't Need No Doctor."  Again, nothing amazing about this set, either.  And it's not to say that Mayer has only phoned it in on this performance, but playing all three "personalities" on stage in one night seems to have taken its toll on him by this point in the show.

Of course, for any man to have accomplished this level of musicianship, this much musical and commercial experimentation, and to still come off looking like a pro, all by the tender age of 30, John Mayer is doing more than a few things very right.

The DVD of the film, shot in exquisite super-35mm and directed by Danny Clinch (famous photographer of musicians for Vanity Fair, Spin and Rolling Stone magazines), captures the magic of all the performances on-stage beautifully.  The editing was a bit funky for my taste, but not so much as you'd notice, or that it would detract from the concert experience.  And the look of film in such a setting was brilliant!  The camera zooms wildly, racking and struggling to find focus, and lens flare galore!  It's a true "concert film."

The behind-the-scenes footage and interview scenes were sprinkled in nicely, and the image of John in a snappy leather coat, playing guitar alone on Mullholland Drive with the out-of-focus "HOLLYWOOD" sign in the distance is iconic.

It's nothing outstanding, but it's still a great collection of brilliantly performed songs, and a pretty cool concert DVD.



This is the third release by the Austin, Texas trio of blues brothers and for my money, it's still not living up to the fire and passion of their 2004 debut.  Forgiven's production (by Steve Jordan, of John Mayer Trio) is a bit more stripped down and raw than their last release, but the songs themselves are still made of the same slow, gentle, balladic serenades than lulled me to sleep on 2006's Sacred.

The album opens with a mid-strength blues effort - "Heart Won't Tell a Lie" - and then quickly breaks into full lullaby mode with the title track before jumping back into the more poppy, slightly more lively first single, "Staying With Me."  The vocals and the band's tightness are both hard to match, but there's nothing very exciting happening anywhere on this album.  I liked the faithful cover of The Spencer Davis Group's "I'm A Man", which seemed to fit seamlessly into Los Lonely Boys' sound.

The rest of this album is mellow and sleepy, like a nice Mexican siesta on Valium.  But rather that making this album sound boring, I do want to say that it's a very good collection of rich, melodic chill songs - great background blues or a backyard-barbecue soundtrack.

Still, I am waiting for an album that sees these guys jump back to life with the kind of energy displayed on their first album.  But, I've heard it often said, that lighting never strikes twice.

GUNS N' ROSES - Chinese Democracy (Leaked Tracks)

Okay, it's not the REAL album, yet... and I promise that if and when Chinese Democracy - the 13-year old production and most expensive record ever made - is ever officially released, I WILL buy it with actual U.S. dollars at my local record store (i.e. - Target).  But for now, a collection of 9 nearly full-quality, and seemingly fully-produced new tracks from Axl and his rag-tag group of constantly-interchanging band-mates have hit the Internet waters oft' sailed by the dreaded Pirates of Music Bay.

My verdict?  It's not the GN'R we used to know and love... but it's damned good.

Axl's voice ain't exactly what it used to be, but he's still got it where it counts.  And what's more, the old boy - after all these years spent in his egomaniacal and self-centered world of all that glitters - has been sharpening his song-writing skills to a very fine point... and it shows!  Some of these compositions are simply brilliant, on par with "November Rain" and "Estranged"!  (I'm not even kidding!)

This brings the tentative track list, by my count, to about 10 songs that are likely to actually be included on the ever-elusive new album.  And in no particular order (well, alphabetic, I guess), here they are:

1. Better (5:12) - I don't even know how to describe this track with any accuracy.  It's melodic and rocking, layered with a heavy rhythm and pounding drums on top of cool, synthesized guitar screeches, electronica and a catchy chorus.  The life of this song climaxes and dies out like any good story does.  This song sorely misses Slash's talents, but rocks hard enough without him.  God, I love it!

2. The Blues (4:53) - Opening with a gentle and flittering piano riff, before falling into a heavier one reminiscent of 1991's "Yesterdays" or "So Fine," Axl conjures the spirit of Elton John, a young Billy Joel, or even a slight Freddie Mercury incarnation. (Slash would've torn this solo UP!)

3. Catcher In The Rye (5:31) - Did you like "Estranged"?  You're gonna love this one.  Epic!  That's all I'm saying.

4. Chinese Democracy (5:01) - This one is Axl in the nu-metal world.  It's dark, heavy, crisply-produced, and angry.  Axl taps into his teenage angst again on this one.  Amazing that the guy we used to know and love is still alive and well inside that botoxed, corn-rowed, spare-tired stranger.

5. If The World (5:00) - What the hell is this?!?!  It ain't Guns... and it ain't Roses.  A weird trip-hop beat opens up to a flamenco guitar, which is prelude to a swanky porno-style guitar riff, which then leads to Axl's bluesy, soaring vocals.  This is nuts, but... I'll be damned!  It's great!

6. IRS (4:41) - I have no idea what this song is about - Axl threatens to call everyone from the FBI, CIA and IRS to the President himself... but for what reason, I have no idea.  This track has been around in a less-than-hi-quality version for a couple years now, but it sounds better than ever.  It's a very enjoyable, ominous, mid-tempo rocker.

7. Madagascar (5:52) - Somber horns, shimmying violins and strained vocals bring this epic to life bit by bit, and slowly build this powerhouse to a full climax.  It's huge, man.  Very dramatic.

8. Rhiad and The Bedouins (3:47) - I don't even know what to say.  It just rocks, okay people?!?!

9. There Was a Time (6:51) - This is another track that has been around in various forms and durations for a while now and I've got to say, I think I actually like the older versions better - Its probably the coolest track on the album, but this version is just too over-produced.  I dig the demo better.

10. (Untitled) - Axl does a pop/rock ballad (or "GN'R takes on Matchbox Twenty?")  It's not without it's charm, but I'm not sure what to make of it yet.

So, there ya go, just a sneak peek.  Enjoy!

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