Sammy Hagar – Red Voodoo

Sammy Hagar
Artist: Sammy Hagar
Title: Red Voodoo
Label: MCA
Rating: 6/10

The way I see it, Sammy Hagar is the man who ruined Van Halen (let us forget for the moment that right now David Lee Roth is balding and pathetic while Sammy here still seems to be rocking strong). It is a small grade-school grudge that I have not been able to move beyond, however, I am trying to put the past behind me and give this album a fair listen.

After some touring in Australia and Guam, Sammy Hagar and his band, The Waboritas, have come back to the States to put out eleven tracks of good old- fashioned rock and roll in the form of Red Voodoo. The album starts out with “Mas Tequila,” a song that (I am hesitant to admit this) I was singing along with on the radio before I even knew that it was Mr. Hagar. I think most rock stars out there will agree with me when I say that this song deals with a very important subject: driving south of the border to drink copious amounts of tequila. “Red Voodoo,” the title track from this album, is a fast paced ditty about hot peppers and pretty girls, another important staple in your rock diet. The Waboritas slow things down a bit with “Lay Your Hands On Me”. This is where the album starts to lose it. The slow rock ballad just is not working for them. In a song or two though they are back on track with “Don’t Fight It (Feel It)”. With a slide guitar and some horns, they add a little something extra that gives a blues quality to their music.

These guys seem to be stuck on some permanent spring break, and their music reflects it. This album is full of fun, feel-good music. They could have left out the slower tunes, but overall, this is good rock and roll.

+ Kevin Cousins

Buck-O-Nine – Libido

Buck-O-Nine
Artist: Buck-O-Nine
Title: Libido
Label: TVT
Rating: 6/10

As the 90’s come to a close, it would seem appropriate to leave behind the fads that graced the decade and move on to something original, whether it’s by a new group or one that already knows the ropes. Buck-O-Nine’s 1999 release, Libido, has all of the elements of past fads, rarely displaying anything new in their sound. The up and down punk-styled ska-core band seldom shows any marked improvement on their latest release, as most of the songs sound very similar to their last album, as well as other ska outfits that keep putting out uninspiring discs for kids to buy.

Although the production on Libido is great, it falls short in the creativity department. The simple reggae-like tone present in every song makes for one monotonous album. The exception has to be “Falling Back to Sleep”, as it picks up speed and aggression and drowns out the common weaknesses of most ska bands today. “Headlines” has a smooth vocal sound and more emotion is presented, while the horn section leans on a funkier sound that isn’t heard anywhere else on the disc. “A Lot in My Head” grooves as well and sounds like the early Chili Peppers with a little horn added for flavor. Beside these three standouts, the tracks tend to blend together, sounding similar in every aspect, including vocals, brass, and guitar structure.

There would be little noise about this release if it weren’t for a few thousand ska-freaks that’ll snatch up anything that sounds like the rest of their collection. The disc is good, but it just doesn’t capture any feeling like great music should. Maybe the evolution of ska-core has finally reached its limit…about three years ago.

+ rick hinkson

Built To Spill – Keep It Like Secret

Built To Spill
Artist: Built To Spill
Title: Keep It Like Secret
Label: Warner Bros.
Rating: 6/10

Hasn’t the world declared alternative rock dead? Not according to Built To Spill. From behind the stinging guitar and brushed snare comes their latest musical composition, Keep It Like A Secret. Singer/guitarist Doug Martsch isn’t concerned about whether this album falls into the pop or alternative categories; his only goal is in making a musical vision come to fruition. Objective accomplished.

Built To Spill plays music that doesn’t fit any one classification. Martsch’s layered guitar solos display his unusual squelching busyness. On the surface the sounds seems disorganized and trite, but if you listen closely you’ll notice that Martsch has complete control over the intense movements.

It’s all in the verses.

His rambled dreaminess provides the framework for Built To Spill’s latest composition. Through soft vocal twists and ingenious story lines, Martsch purges his soul.

“Center Of The Universe” is too Weezer for even Weezer, but has a peculiar quirkiness that is pleasing in its obscurity. “Sidewalk” marches along the unbeaten path of buzzing sonic bliss. While “Bad Light” opens with a blaring repeated riff that shines throughout the song’s chorus, “Broken Chair” is Martsch’s chance to revisit his love for jamming. The solos are lush, but lean, paying homage to Seattle’s passing musical fossils.

“You Were Right” is a walk through a rock lexicon of song titles from the world’s biggest bands: Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Segar. “You were wrong when you said everything is going to be alright/ You were right when you said all that glitters isn’t gold/ You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind/ You were right when you said we’re all just bricks in the wall/ And when you said manic depression’s a frustrated mess/ You were right when you said you can’t always get what you want/ You were right when you said we are still running against the wind/ Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone/ You were right when you said/ This is the end.”

+ rae gun

Third Eye Blind – Interview

Third Eye Blind

Rewind to 1997!!
“I want something else to get me through this.” As much as the band struggled to decide on their first single, they weren’t prepared to pay the price success would bring. Speaking to Arion Salazar, it’s clear the band has realized the price of a semi-charmed kind of life.

If you dismiss Third Eye Blind based solely on their sugarcoated pop song, “Semi-Charmed Life,” you’ll miss out on a really good rock album. It “was a kind of scary thing coming with [Semi-Charmed Life] out of the box,” said Arion. “Because we all knew that there was a chance of getting dismissed as a disposable pop band…That is really the only song that sounds like that on the record.” The other songs on the album are a rock-punk hybrid, with catchy choruses galore. But in a year of songs like Sugar Ray’s “Fly” and Smash Mouth’s “Walking on the Sun”, you quickly feel burned when you buy their albums and discover you’ve became a victim of the old bait and switch. Sugar Ray’s not a ska band, and Smash Mouth is. Third Eye Blind isn’t a pop band, rock is more this band’s flavor. But for the sake of radio and MTV, bands elect to give the masses what they want. Arion agrees, “Everybody wants a little MTV.”

Third Eye Blind has been thrown into a group of pop-rock bands that are constantly churned out by record labels. Most fans let these bands slide by, dismissing them as a made band. Still, more often than not, these bands outsell any band that fans see as real. Third Eye Blind is in a unique situation: they have a huge hit, a great story, and are a real rock band. “I think we have a Third Eye Blind sound and I don’t think we have a lot in common with the bands we get clumped together with. I don’t understand it, but I’m at the point where I believe in our record and I’m proud of it and if you don’t like it, it’s no big deal.” Arion spoke with a real passion, one that only comes with putting a lot of hard work into something and then having it taken apart and criticized piece by piece, based solely on one aspect.

So what made this a strong album? “The album is a combined effort,” Arion began. “We worked hard as a band to get all these songs together. I guess I attribute [the fact that there are no throwaway songs] to the fact that we had label interest on and off for the past four and a half years. We had showcases that were our big chances to get signed with mister bigwig in the audience and we fucked them all up. And that was really good because at that time we didn’t have those fourteen songs yet.” During that time, the group put together a strong demo tape that consisted mostly of the songs that appear on their self-titled album. This demo was the driving force behind Electra Records CEO Sylvia Rhone’s interest in Third Eye Blind, not to mention the interest of many other record labels. “She was a really big supporter. She flew out to see us in LA and then flew us out to NY to showcase for her people. I’ve got to say…that’s the biggest reason we went with Elektra.” It’s not every day that the head of a major record label goes out of their way to sign a band. But more than that, Arion said it was Sylvia’s real approach with the band that won them over.

On the road and along the way they have opened for some of the world’s biggest bands: Rolling Stones, U2, and Oasis.

So how’s the tour going? “Really, really, really good. Outstanding,” Arion seemed reassuring, but added, “It’s been really tough this last week.” The weeks really start to add up when you’re on tour for almost a year straight. So what about the Stones? “We met them.” A meeting was arranged on the last night that Third Eye Blind was to open for the Stones. Arion continued, “We were herded into their dressing room moments before they were going to go onstage. So… we all lined up to take a shot with them and we just talked to them really briefly, and I’m standing next to Mick Jagger and I heard him say, [Arion imitates Mick Jagger] ‘Come on, hurry up, take the picture, let’s, let’s do this.’ ” So their attitudes held true to form? “Mick Jagger is definitely right up there with his whole…reputation that he has.”

“U2 on the other hand went out of their way to hang out with us and was popping into our dressing room at any given moment.” Arion said all eight shows spent on the road with U2 were great. How would you sum it all up? “Really fucking cool!”

Arion saved the best tour story for last. During the time record labels were tripping over each other to sign Third Eye Blind, they decided to use some of their leverage to get an opening gig for Oasis. It worked. At the time, “We didn’t even have a real big following in our hometown and then suddenly we’re opening up for Oasis, playing in front of nine thousand people.” Arion didn’t stop there, like many others; he had a funny Liam Gallagher story. “I almost got into a fight with Liam and so did Kevin [Cadogan].”

And so the story goes…

“It was around sound check and Liam was play sparring with some of the dudes in the band, [he was] jumping around and he didn’t see me. And he kind of backed into me and turned around and I said, ‘Watch it, bub!'” Bub? Laughing, Arion says, “I watch too many cartoons, but that’s what I said. So he looks at me totally shocked that any little peon would speak to him. Then he turned back to his band and said [attempts a Liam-esque brit accent], ‘Did you hear what he just said to me?’ And he walked away bewildered that I had spoken in his presence.” Neither of us could help but to laugh. But you gotta take it in stride. He called [George Harrison] a nipple!” Arion added laughing.

So, seriously, what is the best thing about being in a band? “The chicks!” Really? Oh yeah, and there’s the part of “doing what you love and getting paid for it,” Arion said, cutting back from his initial joke.

Finally, what’s better about being in a big rock band than you would have guessed? “The accommodations are better. The bus is like a yacht. We’ve got the satellite channels and stuff. This [bus] is better than my house. Traveling on the bus is great!”

So what’s worse?

“The fact that you’re away from friends and family for a long time.”

I’m not listening when you say goodbye.

+ charlie craine

Sugar Ray – Interview

Sugar Ray

Rewind to 1997…

In some cases, a meager beginning builds character. You have to work and work for every chance you get to move ahead. Like their namesake, Sugar Ray Leonard, the band named Sugar Ray started with little, only to kick, scratch, and claw their way to the top.

Bands dream of reaching the plateau of rock stardom. The guys in Sugar Ray are no different. In a chat with Rodney Sheppard, lead guitarist, I learned that they had “to play parties for years and years,” but only after realizing that they were going nowhere did they get serious about music and get a major label recording contract.

With a sound much their own, Rodney told me that the band’s musical influences vary, everywhere from “The Jam to The Beatles and a lot of English punk. All of us like the Sex Pistols and Ted Nugent. We also admire Rage Against The Machine and Korn.” Sugar Ray was able to play with a few of the bands they admire, but none as special as when they opened for the Sex Pistols. “It was awesome. It was a thrill of a lifetime. It was all the original guys, minus Sid Vicious, and in the same year we also opened for KISS.”

Where did the track “Fly” come from?

That came out of a broken rehearsal. The band was fighting, and Mark, our singer, left, and we started getting ready to pack things up. Murphy just started playing bass and our DJ had a drum loop and then everyone pitched in and in five minutes we had it. And when we got back to LA, Mark wrote the lyrics and the verses. We took it our producer and after that we had a really excellent song.

Why did you guys make two versions?

Atlantic Records felt a lot of radio formats wouldn’t want Super Cat rapping through the whole song, so we wanted to include both because if some people heard one of the versions on the radio and bought the record they wouldn’t feel ripped off.

We all know how it is buying a record and getting the shaft.

Yeah, I got that once with a Breeder’s single.

What is it like to have a hit song?

It’s exciting. It’s everything. It’s everything we always wanted all of our lives. It’s not like the money, because nobody is really making money. We’re just having the greatest time.

How did you shoot the video for “Fly” with Mark walking across the ceiling?

That’s actually taken from an old Fred Astaire movie from the ’40’s or ’50’s. It’s a square room and all of the furniture is nailed down and the room itself is in a giant circular thing almost like a ferris wheel. It spins and they mount the camera and the room spins. It’s an optical illusion.

What’s up with this Sweet Rain band trying to rip you guys off with a cover of “Fly”?

I know. I heard Kurt Loder on MTV talking about it, but I’ve yet to hear the song. I’ve gone to every music store to try and buy it.

So much for their stealing your fire?

[Laughs] I know.

I actually heard their cover of your song and of Smash Mouth’s “Walking On The Sun”.

Was it good or bad?

The cover of “Fly” was really good, but the Smash Mouth cover was exact. If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t know better.

You see, they’re banking on the fact that we haven’t released it as a single. They just released a single for the people who hear “Fly” on the radio and go to buy the single. But honestly, it is a bit flattering that someone wants to cover our song. I know they have other reasons for doing it, but it’s still flattering.

A few years ago you guys took on a challenge by Howard Stern to any band out there listening to try and cover two songs he wrote as a child.

So we took him up on it. I guess Atlantic got a version of “Psychedelic Bee” and “Silver Nickels” (the two songs written by Howard Stern) and we had them while we were touring. So we listened to them and I decided we should cover “Psychedelic Bee”. We went into the studio in Denver and recorded it in like five hours. The next day we sent it back to Atlantic and they gave it to Howard. He played it for a week and a half, every single day. And then we got to New York and he asked us to come to the studio and play it for him.

What was it like when you finally got in there?

It was great. We still have a relationship with him. After “Fly” came out, his daughter got it and loved it, and liked the video and Mark, so he had us come back in again.

What is Howard is really like?

He’s a nice guy. He’s not at all like the character he projects.

What is the band’s future?

Relentless touring. We’re gonna tour China, Australia, and then more in the States. Then we’ll get another album out.

Will the next album convey the same Sugar Ray?

We’ll have to see how this year has changed us.

+ charlie craine

Resident Evil

Resident Evil
Cast: Milla Jovovich
Studio: Sony
Rating: 4/10

When was the last time a video game spured a hit movie? Super Mario Bros.? Hardly. Tomb Raider? Not close. Resident Evil? You are getting colder.

Resident Evil is much worse than all the other video game movies that you almost want to exclude it from an already bad genre. Resident Evil makes Tron look good.

Resident Evil is nothing more than a hi-tech version of Romero’s flesh-eating-zombie flicks. I’ve got to tell you the plot of The Night of the Living Dead surpass this modern day blunder. There are more frights in that black and white movie that Resident Evil almost feels like a comedy in comparison.

You can do all the visual effects in the world, but that doesn’t mean you are in the makings of a great film. Anyone remember Battlefield Earth? Well Resident Evil has found itself in that kind of asinine company.

+ bob mack

Swimmer – Surreal

Swimmer
Artist: Swimmer
Title: Surreal
Label: Maverick
Rating: 8/10

Swimmer grows on you like a wonderful rash. The release of their album was delayed for a month and that worked out perfectly for me since it allowed me time to realize how great this disc is. Swimmer isn’t the kind of band that you get right away; you need to give them a chance. If you do, you’ll find out that Surreal is an amazing piece of music. While it is often dark and melancholy, it still produces highs that will have you floating from note to note.

Swimmer has a fabulously distinct vocalist, Anday Maccarron. He fronts Swimmer with a crunch in his voice and absolute emotion that will blow you away. No song goes on too long; if anything, they end too soon. Listen to the first track, “Surreal”, and you’ll know exactly what I’m saying. The vocals dig into your skin like a needle that never seems to find the right vein. And what is wonderful about this album is that it doesn’t fall off after the first track. “Dumb” follows “Surreal” and proves this point. The lyrics are powerful and numbing. “Sorry if we seem unkind/ guess we’re not bleeding your way/ you’re a blind man feeding the blind/ I think you better wake up and say/ God is so dumb”. “Dirty Word” is more of the same. This song may actually find its way onto radio. It boasts a great bass line and a wonderful chorus.

The album is amazing. Maybe it would be easier telling you what isn’t good about it. Well, I haven’t found a chink yet, but I can say that every song is a different ride through the mind of Maccarron. It’s full of highs, lows, and all that comes in between. One definitive low comes in the form of “It’s So Perfect”. Suicide is the topic and it isn’t taken lightly. The song has a reverse climax with strings accompanying Maccarron’s verses and only an acoustic guitar protecting his sheltered chorus.

“Playing Jesus” continues to tear at Maccarron’s troubled faith. “You’re playing Jesus but you don’t know how/ I guess you’re better being that way”. The album is troubling and honest. It finds its way, probing into the inner workings of the mind. Swimmer isn’t just a curiosity; they are a band to be reckoned with.

+ charles craine

Clay Aiken

clay aiken

Who can explain why a singer becomes a pop star? Sure, talent and ambition contribute to the rise of many singing sensations, but skill and drive alone do not guarantee a berth at the top of the charts. Ultimately, it is an almost inexplicable reaction between a singer and his or her audience that creates a superstar career, sparking the kind of fanatic devotion that propels a performer into the pop stratosphere.

Such was the explosive reaction when Clay Aiken burst onto the music scene. An unlikely pop star, Aiken has remained steadfast in his desire to remain true to the simple values he learned as a child in Raleigh, North Carolina. I still live in the town where I grew up, he says. I like surrounding myself with people I know and love. It is this authenticity that his millions of fans have responded to, an almost supernatural earnestness that feels unconventional in the cynical world of today.

No slave to fickle trends or fashion fads, the singer has once again listened to his heart and has come up with an album that extols the value of love in all of its myriad forms. The singers third CD, A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS, offers fans 10 cover versions of love songs spanning the last three decades, as well as four brand-new songs that are destined to become Aiken classics in their own right.This album is very different than my first, MEASURE OF A MAN, in that I had a lot more say in how I wanted things to be, says the singer. For the first album, they just gave us the songs, and I sang them. This time, Clive Davis, Jaymes Foster [the albums executive producer] and I came up with the songs together. I also felt more confident in the studio while we were recording. Before, it was all just a bunch of knobs and controls. Now, Im comfortable offering my opinion on how the arrangements and mixes should sound.

Though his fans have come to expect him to knock each song into the heavens with his transcendently powerful voicewhich he does here quite masterfully, particularly on Harry Nillsons Without You, the Bad English hit When I See You Smile (written by Diane Warren), and the Foreigner classic I Want to Know What Love Isthe new album also shows off a more mature Aiken, one who is able to add beautiful vocal nuances to such unexpected choices as Bryan Adamss Everything I Do (I Do It For You), Paul Youngs Everytime You Go Away (written by Daryl Hall), and Dolly Partons Here You Come Again (written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil).

Fans like to hear big songs, says Aiken, Thats what people have come to expect from us. I like big songs as well, but on this album, we also wanted to choose songs that expressed different parts of my voice.

To be sure, Partons peppy Here You Come Again, done on A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS as a ballad, shows off a softer, more vulnerable Aiken. I have always liked that song, he says, but I had never sung it before. Foster promised to come up with an arrangement that would suit Aikens voiceand she did. Its truly my favorite song on the album, says the singer.

With classics like Celine Dions Because You Love Me, Elton Johns Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word, and Richard Marxs Right Here Waiting also rounding out the list of covers, one has to wonder if Aiken felt at all intimidated by competing with the original versions.

I did feel a bit anxious about ‘Because You Loved Me,'” the singer offers, “not only because of Celine, but also because the original was produced by David Foster, one of the greatest producers of all time.David has heard our version, and so has Diane Warren, who wrote the song. They both approve of what weve done, and that makes me happy. (Aikens version of Because You Loved Me was produced by Eman. Other producers on the album include John Fields, Andreas Carlsson & Samuel Waermo, Adam Anders, and Russ Irwin & Charles Pettus.)

If any song made Aiken nervous, it was Adamss Everything I Do (I Do It For You). That gravelly voice is so well-known, says Aiken about Adamss iconic rasp, I didnt know if I could do the song justice. With a lovely, restrained vocaland an arrangement with a lilting Celtic feelAikens version is an undeniable highpoint of the new disc; its one of the most romantic songs the singer has ever sung.

The new songs also give Aiken the opportunity to show off his emotional growth, with each track highlighting a different facet of his personality. Everything I Have (written by Jeremy Bose) brings to mind the poignancy of an Art Garfunkel performance. The songs subtle piano and string arrangement allows Aikens naked voice to express the delicious ache of love. Every woman I have played that for absolutely loves it, says the singer. I have people telling me they want to play it at their wedding. A Thousand Days (written by Christian Leuzzi, Aldo Nova & Emanual Olsson) and These Open Arms (written by Jon Bon Jovi & Desmond Childs) are both classic Aiken, with big dramatic vocals and rousing, take-no-prisoners choruses. The fourth new track Lonely No More has a lighter, more playful pop sensibilityand the song also represents Aikens first songwriting credit (along with writers Andreas Carlson, Samuel Waermo, and Mimmi Waermo.)

Perhaps the most astonishing artistic departure for Aiken was the decision to cover the Mr. Mister hit Broken Wings as an ethereal, New Age-like track. With an otherworldly spoken word vocal by poet Erin Taylor, the song is a spectacular tour-de-force. We didnt know if it would work. We took a chance, and Im so happy with how it came out.

Covering such a varied emotional spectrum, but always staying true to the essence of who Clay Aiken is, A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS is bound to please the millions of fans who loved 2003s MEASURE OF MAN (triple platinum and counting) and 2004s platinum MERRY CHRISTMAS WITH LOVE, the best-selling holiday album of that year. (2004 also saw the release of his inspirational biography, LEARNING TO SING: HEARING THE MUSIC IN YOUR LIFE, which reached ..2 on The New York Times Bestsellers List.)

While the accolades that followed his stunningly close second-place finish on the second season of American Idol have validated him in ways that he never could have dreamed of when he was a teacher working with autistic children back in his home state of North Carolina, it is the charitable work that his musical career has enabled him to do that means more to him than anything else these days.

The singer created the Bubel/Aiken Foundation in 2003, an organization that promotes and funds educational and recreational programs for children with special needs. I worked with Mike Bubel, who has autism, when I was going to school at UNCC, says Aiken. His mother was very instrumental in encouraging me to get into this business. The Foundation remains close to the singers heart at all times. My music career has allowed me to do the same thing I was doing beforework with kids with disabilities, he says. It has given me a big stage to talk about the same things I always cared about. I dont get to be as hands-on with the kids anymore, but I do get to work toward enacting change on a much larger scale.

Also important to Aikens life as a humanitarian is his work as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Since 2005, the singer has been passionately committed to supporting the organizations education programs. Not only has Aiken testified before Congress urging the government to allocate more funds for UNICEFs global work for children, he has also traveled to Indonesia and Uganda to see the devastating conditions affecting millions of the worlds children first-handdisease, malnutrition, kidnapping, and war, chief among them. You just cannot believe how some of these kids are forced to live, says Aiken. Its truly heartbreaking, yet many people dont even know these conditions exist. I am hoping to shed light on some of these problems and so that more resources can be allocated to help make things better.

Aiken meant for the title A THOUSAND DIFFERENT WAYS to express the many different kinds of love in the world. Surely, his charitable work expresses a deep and abiding love for his fellow man, particularly the littlest ones among us. Where did such a driving need to help others come from, one cant help but ask? Typical for Aiken, his answer is devoid of any egotism. Where did the desire to help come from? The need for help! he answers matter-of-factly. You know, my mother has always been someone who urged me to help people in need. Maybe thats it. I dont think its something you can learn. Its just something you do.