Rod Stewart – Merry Christmas, Baby (Deluxe Edition)
2012, Verve Music Group
1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
3. Winter Wonderland
4. White Christmas
5. Merry Christmas, Baby
6. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
7. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
8. Blue Christmas
9. Red-Suited Super Man
10. When You Wish Upon A Star
11. We Three Kings
12. Silent Night
13. Auld Lang Syne
14. What Child Is This
15. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
16. Silver Bells
Producer: David Foster & Rod Stewart
For the past decade Rod Stewart has been content to become a crooner covering the “great American songbook” as well as Motown and rock ‘n’ roll staples. Despite having said in the past that he would never do a Christmas album, it was really only a matter of time before he did just that. Rod isn’t a rock star or a pop star anymore. He’s a crooner in the tradition of Crosby, Sinatra and Martin (just as Michael Buble is). You can’t be a crooner and not do a holiday album.
Rod has not been taking any chances in the past decade when covering the materials of others. The songs are played faithfully and in their traditional big-band fashion just with Rod’s raspy vocals laid over. A few exceptions would be songs like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” or “Winter Wonderland” where the tempo is a bit slower. It’s easy listening background music at a Christmas party. Not that I’m complaining.
These songs are classics for a reason and in my opinion they don’t need to be remixed or refashioned into flamenco, country and dance songs. Just give someone with a great voice the mic and let’em sing. That’s exactly what’s been done with Merry Christmas, Baby.
As standard, there’s a few cameos on this album. Michael Buble appears on “Winter Wonderland”, Cee-Lo Green lends a hand on “Merry Christmas, Baby” and Mary J. Blige duets with Rod on “We Three Kings”.
While I can’t say I’ve ever really followed Rod’s career, he’s always had a great distinctive voice so it’s wonderful to hear to him put his vocal stamp on these timeless classics. There’s a couple of songs I didn’t really care for though. “Red-Suited Superman” being one and I felt the inclusion of “When You Wish Upon a Star” was out of place. Why not just save that for the next volume of his Great American Songbook series? That’s not really a Christmas song at all.
In any event, this is a good easy-listening Christmas album that’s well worth picking up for Chrirstmas traditionalists.
Highlights: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “White Christmas”, “Silent Night”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “What Child Is This”
John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – This Christmas
2012, Universal Music Enterprises
1. Baby It’s Cold Outside
2. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
3. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
4. This Christmas
5. Silent Night
6. The Christmas Waltz
7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
8. Winter Wonderland
9. White Christmas
10. I Think You Might Like It
11. The Christmas Song
12. Deck the Halls
13. Auld Lang Syne/Christmas Time Is Here
Okay, this project sounded too campy to pass up. I mean, just look at that album cover! It’s a complete sugar overload of Christmas cookies and they embrace it. The pull is that you’re getting to hear John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John sing together 34 years after they first teamed in the movie Grease. And they’ve chosen to reunite over an album’s worth of classic Christmas songs. Somehow, it seems right.
I wasn’t sure what exactly was going to be going on with this album. Would the songs be played traditionally or would they shake things up? Well, it’s a bit of both. For example, for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” the male & female roles are reversed. Nice twist. “Silent Night” starts off with a flute and features some nice violin work as well.
There is only one song on the entire album that I am not a fan of and that’s only because I’ve never been a fan of this song: “This Christmas”. I just don’t like that song, no matter which artist is playing it. There is one original song here: “I Think You Might Like It”. It’s Christmas meets Grease. I think I might like it. It’s a true guilty pleasure.
There’s a few guest spots as well: Barbara Streisand (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”), James Taylor (“Deck The Halls”), Kenny G (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”), Cliff Richard (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”) and Tony Bennett (“Winter Wonderland”).
I’m a fool for Christmas standards and as long as you don’t stray too far away from the traditional versions, I’m going to like what I’m hearing. Olivia’s voice is just as good as ever and John does a good job as well. They both really seem to be enjoying themselves on this project.
If you ever wanted to hear Danny & Sandy singing Christmas tunes, pick this album up. It’s a fun kitschy romp.
Highlights: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, “Silent Night”, “The Christmas Waltz”, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “I Think You Might Like It”, “The Christmas Song”
Rick Springfield – Songs for the End of the World
(2012, Universal Music Enterprises)
1. Wide Awake
2. Our Ship’s Sinking
3. I Hate Myself
4. You & Me
6. A Sign of Life
7. My Last Heartbeat
9. Love Screws Me Up
10. I Found You
12. One Way Street
Rick Springfield – Lead Vocals, Guitar
George Bernhardt – Guitar
Tim Pierce – Guitar
Dan Strain – Guitar
Matt Bissonette – Bass, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Rodger Carter -Drums
George Nastos – Guitar
Richard Page – Vocals
John Waite – Vocals
Producer: Rick Springfield & Matt Bissonette
One of the biggest surprises of the year for me has been Songs for the End of the World. Sure, I know a handful of Rick Springfield’s hit and while I’ve never had a problem with them, I never felt truly compelled to seek out any of his albums. Well, I was aware this album was coming out but still wasn’t too interested in checking it out. Then I came across some extremely high praise for this album online and decided that I needed to see what the big deal was. My conclusion? This is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.
Now, I’m not someone who has followed Rick Springfield throughout his career so perhaps his fanbase already knew what to expect from Rick but for anyone who remembers him for “Jessie’s Girl’ and being an ’80s heartthrob on a soap opera, there is nothing retro or ’80s about this album. Springfield has crafted a near perfect masterpiece of modern rock/pop with Songs for the End of the World. If this album had been released by an artist half (or a third) his age, we’d probably have some big radio hits to talk about here. Sadly, that’s not how the music business works these days but at 63 years old, Rick’s voice is fantastic, the lyrics are excellent, the production is amazingly well done and the songs themselves dig their way into your brain and decide to make themselves at home.
If Rick’s back catalog is even half as good as this album, I’ve really really been missing out. I’ve seen a number of critics online stating this is easily his best album since returning to recording music in 1999 and some sites are even going as far to say it’s one of his best albums PERIOD.
The first four tracks are outstanding: “Wide Awake” is a great opener, “Our Ship’s Sinking” and “I Hate Myself” are fantastic anthems that should go over HUGE with a live crowd and “You & Me” is the type of pop/rock ballad that should be all over radio.
“My Last Heartbeat”, “Depravity”, “I Found You” all have a very modern, dark heavier edge to them. “I Found You” especially. A band of twenty-somethings should wish they could write this good. “Love Screws Me Up” is yet another classic anthem that is sure to go down great in a live setting.
“One Way Street” and “A Sign of Life” are good songs but they are the only songs that song a bit less modern but not in a “oh, that sounds like an ’80s song” kind of way. Maybe “timeless” is the correct word? The only two tracks that fall flat with me are the ballads “Joshua” and “Gabriel”. I just can’t get into ‘em.
If you’re a fan of melodic rock, you really have to pick this album up. I’m converted based off this album alone.
Highlights: “Wide Awake”, “Our Ship’s Sinking”, “I Hate Myself”, “You & Me”, “My Last Heartbeat”, “Love Screws Me Up”, “I Found You”, “Depravity”
Bon Jovi – Greatest Hits – The Ultimate Collection (2010, Island Records)
1. “Livin’ on a Prayer” … 4:13
2. “You Give Love a Bad Name” … 3:46
3. “It’s My Life” … 3:46
4. “Have a Nice Day” … 3:48
5. “Wanted Dead or Alive” … 5:11
6. “Bad Medicine” … 5:16
7. “We Weren’t Born to Follow” … 4:03
8. “I’ll Be There for You” … 5:46
9. “Born to Be My Baby” … 4:40
10. “Blaze of Glory” … 5:40
11. “Who Says You Can’t Go Home (Duet With Jennifer Nettles)” … 3:50
12. “Lay Your Hands on Me” … 3:49
13. “Always” … 5:56
14. “Runaway” … 3:53
15. “What Do You Got?” … 3:47
16. “No Apologies” … 3:44
1. “In These Arms” … 5:19
2. “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” … 4:39
3. “Lost Highway” … 4:04
4. “Keep the Faith” … 5:46
5. “When We Were Beautiful” … 4:10
6. “Bed of Roses” … 6:38
7. “This Ain’t a Love Song” … 5:06
8. “These Days” … 6:27
9. “(You Want To) Make a Memory” … 4:36
10. “Blood on Blood” … 6:16
11. “This Is Love, This Is Life” … 3:25
12. “The More Things Change” … 3:53
I’m a huge Bon Jovi fan. They’re one of my favorite bands, which is funny because I really can’t stand their last few albums and their shift towards country and adult contemporary rock/pop. Also, I’ve become somewhat jaded because it’s more obvious than ever that the band is really a brand and it’s completely Jon’s show to run. I think as he’s getting older, Jon has started to come off as a bitter guy for whatever reason, he denounces the ’80s hair metal scene they were fully-fledged members of at one time and he just seems to be on a power trip with only Richie having the smallest say in what the band does. To me, their last decent effort was 2002′s Bounce and with a few song exceptions, anything they’ve done since has been extremely bland and lacks the hooks and catchy choruses they built their name on in the ’80s and ’90s.
So anyway, this is the band’s fourth compilation album. Though to most fans, it’s really more like their second legit straight-forward compilation. 2003′s This Left Feels Right was an acoustic reworking of many of their best known songs and 2001 saw a Japan-only greatest hits released called Tokyo Road. The very first compilation was Cross Road. It was released in 1994 so given that the band has had a number of hit songs and albums since then, it was definitely time for another recap.
The tracklist is pretty solid. Sure there are personal favorites I could say I would have liked to seen included but keeping with the “greatest hits” theme, the album does it’s job. Especially in the Ultimate Collection form. It reads like a set list of what you would probably hear the band play in concert these days. I was caught off guard by “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” (which was a new song included on Cross Road) and These Days getting two songs included but it’s cool because I like all three of those songs. The only studio album not represented on any of the U.S. releases is 7800° Fahrenheit (“In and Out of Love” and “Tokyo Road” appear on international versions).
There are a few different versions of this album. First there is the simply titled Greatest Hits, which is just disc one (featuring two new songs). Then there is Greatest Hits – The Ultimate Collection which features a second disc (and two more new songs). Then there’s also a Target edition of Greatest Hits which has all of disc one plus live versions of “Diamond Ring” and “We Weren’t Born to Follow”. Then the iTunes version features all the material from disc one and two plus a 5th new song called “This Is Our House”.
I definitely wanted The Ultimate Collection because all four new songs were slowly being released on the band’s website for streaming and I liked them all a lot. Someone pointed out to me that they all sounded like modern Bon Jovi (which we’ve already covered I don’t like) and I guess they are right. Maybe I’m just ready to like Bon Jovi again? Who knows! “What Do You Got?” is my favorite of the new songs but I think they’re all good. Maybe not songs that can compare to their classics but very good for modern day Bon Jovi, I think. So I’m happy with my purchase. I’m enjoying the new stuff and while I don’t usually bother listening to compilations these days, you really can’t go wrong with a collection of Bon Jovi’s greatest hits.
Hughes/Thrall – Hughes/Thrall (1982, Epic Records/Associated Records/Boulevard Records)
1. “I Got Your Number” … 3:37
2. “The Look In Your Eye” … 3:51
3. “Beg, Borrow Or Steal” … 3:47
4. “Where Did The Time Go” … 2:59
5. “Muscle And Blood” … 4:21
6. “Hold Out Your Life” … 4:47
7. “Who Will You Run To” … 3:43
8. “Coast To Coast” … 3:55
9. “First Step Of Love” … 5:35
Glenn Hughes – Vocals, Bass
Pat Thrall – Guitar, Guitar Synthesizer
Gary Ferguson – Drums
Frankie Banali – Drums
Gary Mallaber – Drums
Peter Schless – Keyboards
Producer: Andy Johns
I knew nothing of this album when I came across it online awhile ago. Seeing as how it was dirt cheap (I think I paid about $4.55 for it new) and was Glenn Hughes, I gave it a shot. I had no clue who Pat Thrall was, but that’s what the internet is for. Up to the point of this album, he had spent most of time playing in the Pat Travers Band (he would later go on to play in Asia and for Meatloaf) and from what I’m told is a very respected guitar player.
Enough of the history lesson. How is this collaborative effort? Well, um… It’s okay. It’s a very 1980s commercial rock album full of synthesizers. Every song sounds slick ‘n’ polished and ready for radio or a movie soundtrack. To my understanding, the album received positive reviews so I’m actually surprised this one went unnoticed commercially given how mainstream it is for that time frame.
I just don’t get it. What’s so good about this album? It isn’t awful but it’s just another slice of bland ’80s commercial rock/pop to me. I love ’80s pop (I like listening to the “hits” at least), but nothing really sticks out on this one. If you think I’m contradicting myself from earlier when wondering why this album wasn’t successful, I’m not… There’s tons of bland songs from the ’80s that were all over radio!
More of a curiosity for Glenn Hughes fans than anything else.
Highlights: “I Got Your Number”, “The Look In Your Eye”, “Hold Out Your Life”
Bon Jovi – The Circle [Deluxe CD/DVD Limited Edition] (2009, Island Records)
1. “We Weren’t Born to Follow” … 4:03
2. “When We Were Beautiful” … 5:18
3. “Work for the Working Man” … 4:03
4. “Superman Tonight” … 5:12
5. “Bullet” … 3:50
6. “Thorn In My Side” … 4:05
7. “Live Before You Die” … 4:18
8. “Brokenpromiseland” … 4:57
9. “Love’s the Only Rule” … 4:38
10. “Fast Cars” … 3:16
11. “Happy Now” … 4:21
12. “Learn to Love” … 4:39
When We Were Beautiful – Documentary
Jon Bon Jovi – Lead Vocals
Richie Sambora – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Tico Torres – Drums, Percussion
David Bryan – Keyboards, Piano
Hugh McDonald – Bass
Charlie Judge – Keyboards
Producer: John Shanks with Jon Bon Jovi & Richie Sambora
It’s hard to believe after only releasing two albums in the 1990s that Bon Jovi is now on their fifth studio release in the 2000s alone (The Circle is actually their sixth studio release if you want to count their acoustic reworkings of their own songs on This Left Feels Right). And I haven’t even mentioned the live album and box set they released this decade! So yes, the band has been extremely active this decade with a steady stream of albums and world tours that sell out wherever they go.
The downside to all of this? Their music overall hasn’t been up to snuff with their ’80s or even ’90s output. Their “comeback” album Crush was great, different but great. Bounce rocked harder and was really good. After that, the band has turned into a bland rock band that doesn’t really rock at all and they’ve dabbled way too much in country rock in an attempt to stay relevant (but it worked for a bit, so what do I know?).
In hype for this album, Jon and Richie promised they were done with Nashville and that the album’s title was a reference to the band coming full circle and getting back to rock ‘n’ roll and that they were giving us a “big rock record”. Well, I can tell you this much — thankfully, most signs of Lost Highway are gone (perhaps lost?). I wouldn’t say this album is “big rock” at all, but it is a better effort than Have a Nice Day even if it still sounds similar to that release. I had been hoping this would be closer to Bounce (“Bullet” comes close), but no dice.
I realize that the band is laughing all the way to the bank with the steady stream of bland, safe rock ‘n’ roll made for their soccer mom fans, but I really wish these guys would pay attention to the minority of fans that want a harder edge and huge sing-along choruses. I don’t expect a sequel to Slippery When Wet or New Jersey (though the band does offer up the bass line from “Livin’ On A Prayer” for “Work for the Working Man”), I don’t want a nostalgia release, but throw me a few bones! Give me a couple of songs that have that feel good over the top vibe that band had up until Keep the Faith.
Noticeably absent is the classic Bon Jovi sounding ballad that doesn’t care what decade it is. Even on the awful Lost Highway the band managed to squeeze out the under appreciated “(You Want to) Make a Memory”. Desmond Child co-wrote that song and he helps out a bit on this album, but even his involvement can’t save this album.
Ultimately, The Circle is another collection of mediocre, thoughtful and mature rock songs (Just like U2!) that don’t please this old school Bon Jovi fan and I can’t imagine reaching for this album in the future.
The CD/DVD limited edition comes with the 75 minute B&W documentary When We Were Beautiful, which follows the band on their Lost Highway tour from 2007. It’s a pretty interesting look into the workings of the band.
Highlights: “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, “Work for the Working Man”, “Bullet”, “Brokenpromiseland”, “Happy Now”