Friday, July 30, 2010

A Bit of Baroque Bebop

Yes... Now comes a recommendation for a jazz album. Why jazz? It is very simple. Jazz is the most melodic music genre there is. Just think about bebop, for instance: the melodies in it are so complicated that you might even have a hard time listening to it.. I don't like to think that being complicated automatically makes music or a melody better or more valuable but I do believe that a good complicated melody is valuable because it is a good melody and therefore melodic. To me, the purpose and definition of music has always been melodies – in most cases. There are few things which don't have any melodies in them but which I still value as music.

Charlie Parker was probably the most legendary alto saxophonist of all times. In years 1947-1952 he recorded jazz standards accompanied by a classical string section and a jazz rhythm section. The result was an exciting combination of bebop and classical music instrumentation originally released as two albums in 1950. The whole idea came around accidentally when Parker was playing saxophone in a recording studio and during a break he visited a neighboring studio room in which a symphony orchestra was making their own recordings. Parker asked if he could join them with his saxophone and the rest is history.

I am of course so excited about this because of the Bird With Strings! concert I saw at Pori Jazz about a week ago. As I already told in my Pori Jazz report, that concert was a live recreation of some of the coolest Charlie Parker with Strings recordings. Jukka Perko, his ensemble and Pori Sinfonietta (“Pori city orchestra”) really made the thing come alive. Then, why am I talking about this stuff in this blog... Because I think this is one of the best ways to get interested in old jazz and because these recordings are just beautiful! They are very baroque and the alto saxophone is one of the loveliest instruments in the whole world.. Besides, Charlie Parker was the best.

Just Friends was the song which Charlie Parker said to be his favorite “Bird with strings” recording. It is lovely... Check it out, and other stuff such as Summertime. The whole Charlie Parker With Strings compilation album, released in 1995, is also available on Spotify.

Listen to Just Friends by Charlie Parker with Strings on YouTube

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pori Jazz 2010 and What I Saw There

It is time for another report from Pori Jazz, my favorite summer music festival! This fesival also happens to be the biggest public festival in Finland which is no wonder due to the nine-day duration. I spent four days at the Jazz and saw a couple of dozen acts most of which were free of charge. I linked most of the artists to their MySpaces or other sites with music samples. This time there are no pictures in the Jazz report... Sorry about that.

The Pori Jazz organization had, once again, booked many big artists that have nothing to do with jazz. John Fogerty, Toto and Tori Amos are great artists but not very jazzy, I think... But those non-jazz artists do bring the masses to the festival and help the festival to pay the bills. It may be possible that Toto performing at Pori Jazz actually benefits the jazz side of the festival. Another good thing is that there is always plenty of jazz too. The absolute coolest things this year was hearing Charlie Parker's symphony orchestra recordings played live at Pori theathre.

Jouni Hokkanen Quintet. Jouni Hokkanen's band was a good start for my Pori Jazz 2010. Contrabassist Hokkanen and his friends played some traditional jazz with swing and great instrumental solos. The material was original and the songs had fun names such as Paten ja Jussin kanssa kalassa (Pate and Jussi gone fishing) – a song that obviously was born while fishing with Pate and Jussi. This gig was a great introduction to the priciples of jazz, such as the structure of a typical jazz tune.

Conjunto Café. Not to be confused with the American band of the same name.. This was definitely the first time I heard salsa at Pori Jazz! Conjunto Café are the first and only salsa band from Satakunta area but they were very good. Good playing, nice singing.. I just loved those rhythms, they are very danceable. I don't hear stuff like that very often: music from Cuba and other Caribbean islands.

Ted Curson Ensemble. Ted Curson is famous for performing at every Pori Jazz festival – since 1966! He is also known for performances and recordings with Charles Mingus. This time he performed several concerts, some of them being free admission gigs. Curson is a trumpeteer who also sings. The performance was excellent and Curson singing stuff like Georgia on My Mind was really wonderful.

Bird with Strings! Pori Sinfonietta playing with alto saxophonist Jukka Perko's quartet was a mind-blowing experience. This concert was a recreation of some of the recordings that saxophone legend Charlie Parker made with a classical string section back in the late 1940s nad early 1950s. It was an impressive and extremely beautiful recreation. The symphony orchestra followed the original arrangements very closely while Jukka Perko added some features of his own style to Parker's original bebop saxophone work. The beauty of it all was that the jazz ensemble focused on maintaining the jazz swing while Perko soloed and the symphony orchestra played what they know best: playing in the style of classical music, sort of spicing the jazz with lovely symphonic elements. You can't really make a symphony orchestra swing so this is the best possible way to bring jazz and classical music together. I highly recommend checking out Charlie Parker's original recordings of these songs.

Ricky-Tick Big Band was all about a 15-piece group of young talented Finnish jazz musicians playing together and performing their original material, conducted by Valtteri Pöyhönen. These musicians are also in other smaller jazz ensembles (The Five Corners Quintet, Timo Lassy Band, Astro Can Caravan...) and many of them make recordings for Ricky-Tick Records. I enjoyed hearing modern big band jazz and original compositions, as well as seeing all these talented jazz musicians.

Dallapé. A legendary Finnish jazzy dance orchestra that has survived from the 1930s to the 2010s? That should be at least a bit interesting. Well, mostly it wasn't. I expected to hear something jazzy but ended up hearing new and old Finnish schlager songs performed by a big, classy orchestra with some quite interesting threatrical elements being brought to the stage... Dallapé was good at what it did on the stage, the lead singers (including Sami Saari) were good, the white suits were nice... But I would have wanted to hear more of that jazzy side. I mean... They were performing at Pori Jazz – why not play jazz?

Kadri Voorand feat. Jussi Kannaste. This year's Estonian guest was the lovely jazz singer and composer Kadri Voorand who performed with her band and Finnish saxophonist Jussi Kannaste. Voorand proved to be a talented songwriter and an excellent singer with a very distinctive voice – perfectly suitable for her jazz that contains elements from contemporary pop and latin jazz. Voorand brought sunshine, emotion, great songs and impressive scat singing to Pori Jazz.

Dalindeo is a talented combo of young Finnish jazz talents with all or at least most members also being in Ricky-Tick Big Band. Dalindeo's sound was exotic and fast-paced. Polyrhythms created by conga drums made the music even more danceable. The band characterizes its music as cinematic jazz. In my opinion, this music was very entertaining and energetic. I will definitely go see them again if I get the chance.

Tuure Kilpeläinen performed some nice singer/songwriter stuff accompanied by his band that really seemed to be in a mood for Latin American music. Kilpeläinen is a quite famous songwriter and solo artist from Finland. I have never really listened to his music properly but this gig was good and memorable. This was actually the second time I saw Kilpeläinen live – I also saw him last year in Tampere opening for Egotrippi. He performed alone with his acoustic guitar. Already then I decided that when it comes to his voice and singing style he is Finland's Mike Viola. I still agree.

Plop is a band lead by Mikko Innanen, a talented Finnish saxophonist who has been in many bands and projects. I saw Innanen's other band, Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio last fall at Tampere Jazz Happening. This gig was consistent with that performance. Innanen loves adding some totally weird stuff to his music and performances. At one point the musicians are playing sweet jazz melodies, the next moment you see the band playing unusual percussions and rather scratching their instruments than playing them... Based on what I have seen and heard I recommend Mikko Innanen's music to jazz experimentalists.

Myron & E with the Soul Investigators. This was the last performance I saw at the festival. The Soul Investigators are a soul/funk band founded in Finland 1998. The band is known to release lots of vinyl singles on Timmion Records. They previously worked with Nicole Willis and at the moment their vocal section is in the care of a California male vocal duo Myron & E. This Californian-Finnish soul band sounded amazing. With excellent playing and a soulful vocal section doing their job with expertise the result was people dancing all around. The Soul Investigators played really catchy melodic music that I hope to hear more.

So, it was a good festival, as usual. I already look forward to next summer. You always learn something new at Pori Jazz, and even when the jazz is downplayed, you get to hear lots of other interesting music. Now... It's time to listen to Charlie Parker!

Pori Jazz website

Monday, July 26, 2010

Proto-Bubblegum by the Searchers

I love The Searchers. Sweets for My Sweet is a nice dose of sugary beat music. I just thought about searching for the Searchers (!) on YouTube and found a live video for this mid-60s song.

The Searchers have given me many wonderful 60s beat music moments. They have been active after the 60s too and I plan to do research on the subject.. And listen to lots of good music!

Maestro Soloing

Dennis, Dennis.. You should make studio albums more often. Albums as wonderful as your 2007/2009 release One Hundred Years from Now. I know, there have been other solo albums as well: Desert Moon (1984, the only Dennis DeYoung 80s solo album affordable for a reasonable price), Back to the World (1986), Boomchild (1988), 10 on Broadway (1994), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1998), The Music of Styx – Live with Symphony Orchestra (2004). Still, not that many traditional solo albums in the past 20 years...

Now.. No more talking to Dennis. About this album: One Hundred Years from Now.. Well, it is excellent, just excellent. Dennis has found a fresh way to bring his new songs to the 21st century and I couldn't be happier. He still uses his 70s keyboards and the familiar Styx sounds in many songs but they actually make a good addition to this album that is packed with pop melodies and rock instrumentation.

This album was originally released in Canada in 2007. I didn't pay much attention to these different versions when I purchased this album from Amazon but now I know I got the exact right version. Believe me, you will want to get the 2007 version. On that album Dennis sings a duet with Canadian singer Éric Lapointe who sings in French, and so does Dennis – partially. This duet is called One Hundred Years from Now. It is one powerful song... Oh my, it really is powerful. If you choose to check out this album get the Canadian version. On the US version Lapointe's vocals have been replaced with Dennis singing every line alone in English. Yeah.. Dennis is an amazing singer but throwing Lapointe's impressive rock vocals out is just not right.

This album, however, is about a lot more than just that one song. Every single song on it is really good. Dennis sounds as lovely as ever and his songwriting pen is as sharp as it was back in the 70s. To be honest, something has changed. Based on this album I would say that Dennis has mostly given up writing grandiose, epic rock songs. This album is more down-to-earth but it is still Dennis – a new kind of Dennis, you might say. It is a humbler Dennis... But he still has great hard rocking guitars and he lets his voice blend with the background singers. The result is very much like what he did with Styx: tight harmonies from which you really couldn't hear anyone's voice louder than the others. That is very democratic, I think, and also what made Styx harmonies so special. Breathe Again starts with a prelude that sounds very much like 70s Styx, and the keyboard solo sounds just as familiar... To cut a long story short, on this album DeYoung has preserved many key elements that were a part of his musical toolbox while being a member of Styx. Whether it was a conscious choice or not.. I don't care. I love the end result just the same. And I bet others enjoy the nostalgic references too.

But.. I don't mean to say that this is some kind of a nostalgia album. Well, some aspects about it are but as I already stated, it is a brand new album with fresh songs. Everytime I hear This Time Next Year, I just think to myself: “Gee, Dennis sounds like Jellyfish..” Meaning, what a bouncy, happy feel. Rain is lovely and so is Save Me (He just keeps coming up with these fabulous classical piano songs!). Crossing the Rubicon contains an interesting reference to rivers.. Sort of. That song is not even the only song in which I hear these hidden messages. I admit that it is probably just my mind playing tricks but it seems that Dennis wanted to be sure his interest towards his old style (and band!) is still very much alive.

Now, I could just go on and praise every other song on this album. I can't really pick any specific favorites. The difficulty of picking a favorite song definitely originates from every song on this album being so good. This is my honest personal opinion. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go shopping for some more DDY stuff... Sometimes that man just controls my life. I enjoy every moment of it.

Dennis DeYoung website

Monday, July 19, 2010

Most Loveable Music

The discovery of Love was something a bit unexpected to me. I had known about the band for years but never quite come around to listen to the music – apart from the song Alone Again Or which I had adored ever since I heard it for the first time. The song is such a surprising thing and I didn't expect to find anything like it among 60s pop hits: an extremely heartfelt, actually heartbreaking song with lots of Spanish music feel. Very, very impressive.

Then my friend (whose taste in music is considerably different from mine) recommended that I should check out Love. My friend had apparently listened to Love's first album and it somehow sounded suitable for me. So, I took this advice and started listening to Love Story 1966-1972. After many hours of listening to the first CD and later the second I was beginning to be totally charmed. Listening to the band's incredible baroque arrangements and absolutely lovely melodies was such a pleasure. This band I will not want to give up anymore!

Love, an L.A.-based band existed from mid-60s to early 70s producing several excellent albums and later reuniting in different forms. The era of psychedelic music had a strong influence on the band's music in the late 60s. Love was not only a psychedelic rock band but also used elements from baroque pop, garage and folk.

On the first album (self-titled, 1966) Love sounds a lot like the Byrds. It is no coincidence as Arthur Lee, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist, in fact, wanted to capture a Byrds-like jangly sound in his band's music. Can't Explain is a good example of this Byrds sound. The song and its bittersweetness remind of I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better, while My Flash on You, as well as the band's famous version of Burt Bacharach's My Little Red Book, show Arthur Lee's punk side. The same jangly sound is also present in the longing of Softly to Me and No Matter What You Do. Today, Love's first album is well-respected but it is still not as spectacular as what was yet to come from the band in late 60s.

On Da Capo (1967) Love took a step towards baroque. Both harpsichord and saxophone are introduced in the first song Stephanie Knows Who, a song that makes interesting use of waltz rhythm and Arthur Lee's energetic punk expression. Compared to its predecessor, Da Capo is a more complicated and psychedelic album in many ways. It includes elegant and melodically lovely songs Orange Skies and ¡Que Vida!, and on the other hand, high-energy psych-rock songs like 7 and 7 Is. Da Capo includes loads of great songs, fresh song structures, cool baroque instrumentations, and all in all, plenty of interesting music! Perhaps the most memorable song is She Comes in Colors: a melancholic, wonderful baroque pop song. I also have to mention that I love playing these songs on the guitar and singing them too!

The next release was called Forever Changes. It opens with Alone Again Or, written by Love's other songwriting force, Bryan MacLean. Well, well... If I had to make a list of favorite songs of all times I might end up placing this song in the top 10. Everything about it is just perfect. And it is just the beginning of one of the best albums ever recorded. This was the second release by the band in the same year - what a year for Love! To me, this album and, in fact, the whole band, are such wonderful things because Lee and MacLean write impeccable melodies... Melodies beyond impeccable, really – stunning is a more suitable word!

A House Is Not a Motel charms with its melancholy and mighty guitar solos in the end. Then comes Andmoreagain, a song that is a perfect match for the Left Banke's baroque beauty. There you have one of the prettiest melodies you have ever heard, some acoustic guitar and strings... A baroque classic! Of course, it is not even the only one on this same album.. The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This on the b-side is equally great and charms even more with its magnificent string arrangement that is supported by horns.. Listen to this while lying on a green lawn, looking at the blue sky and you will feel like you are floating away to another world.. A world of Love.

Old Man is not the punchiest song of the album but just listen to the arrangement! It is such a pleasure to listen such well-crafted, symphonic music. The Red Telephone is a more cathy melody and just as excellent when it comes to the instrumental performance. Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale is another long title, another lovely, A++ song, one of my favorites. When you think about Arthur Lee's singing on the first album, he sounds like a whole different man here: more confident, more convincing and at the same time more vulnerable, more human.

Bummer in the Summer changes the mood after the baroque loveliness of The Good Humor Man... This time the melody and Arthur Lee's vocal performance are a bit unusual but they suit the song well providing interesting variety. The last track You Set the Scene downplays the catchiness in the beginning but by the end of the song has left a permanent impression – that is what I would call a really haunting melody. Forever Changes is a psychedelic baroque pop/rock classic album and should not be missed by anyone who is interested in... music. This album is a gorgeous combination of acoustic and electric sound with some of the loveliest, best string arrangements AND horns I have ever heard.

On Four Sail (1969) (which I haven't actually heard entirely) there are more cool songs that are definitely worth listening. Love Story contains about half of this album – they are the ones I have heard. The Love Story 2CD compilation doesn't skip hardly any songs from the first three albums but later selects more carefully. The reason to this is probably wanting to focus on the early material. The opening track of Four Sail is August - a cool combination of another beautiful Arthur Lee melody and psychedelic restlessness. Your Friend and Mine – Neil's Song is great fun, and Singing Cowboy and Robert Montgomery are also really catchy pop songs. Always See Your Face is pretty and memorable. Lovely, oh so lovely..

The same year (1969) came out Out Here that added more great songs to Love's catalog. I'll Pray for You is one of the happiest Love songs. Arthur Lee also gives out two stunning folky ballads: Listen to My Song and Doggone. On Love Story the latter is presented in an edited 3-minute form - the original album version is 12 minutes long. Doggone actually sounds like a lullaby. Run to the Top is another really nice, happy song. Listening to these songs actually makes me want to hear the whole album.. I should get all Love albums that I don't already have.

Love's first 70s album was called False Start (1970) and showed influence from Jimi Hendrix who even played on the album providing lead guitar to The Everlasting First. By the seventh album Reel to Real all original members had exited Love with the exception of Arthur Lee who still wrote songs for the band. The latest incarnation of Love apparently toured as recently as 2009. Even though almost no one from the original line-up has survived to the 2010s (Lee passed away in 2006), Love keeps influencing music and new people.. like me. Check out Love if you already haven't!

Love site (by Torben Skott)
The official site of singer, songwriter and poet, Arthur Taylor Lee
Love discography

Jangly, Bouncy, Catchy = Irresistible

I believe I never mentioned how I discovered the music of Throwback Suburbia? It was of course through Powerpopaholic blog (great blog, check it out!). What I found was an album filled with everything you could hope to hear on a good powerpop album: extremely catchy melodies, jangly sounds and happy, energetic feel.

Throwback Suburbia's debut full-length release (self-titled, 2009) is a rather typical powerpop album: at first you have some doubts.. Some songs for instance may sound familiar but soon notice you can't stop listening to them. I still tend to listen to Throwback Suburbia's debut full-length every now and then and it sounds fresh and encouraging every time. Music like this just makes (and keeps) me happy.

It doesn't have to be any more difficult than this: write 12 excellent songs (with 12 excellent choruses..), add some jangly guitars, basic organ sounds and bittersweetness and there you have it: an irresistible album of bouncy pop-rock. It is a simple recipe, yet not that easy to implement. There is no room for uninteresting material. This album fortunately keeps the standards high all the way. My favorites include, first of all, Same Mistake – obviously! How could you go wrong with a smoothly sweeping drum beat, cute verse melody, organ, Byrds-guitars, excellent background oooh/aaaah vocals, and a killer chorus? Those Byrds-guitars also appear in Rewind, and All about Me.. Oh my, that guitar sound just makes me drool... I also love Halfway to the Stars... Ba bop-ba-daa! You'll Never Know is the coolest ballad, surely, it is one the few ballads on the album.

Yeah. I thought it was good. Now that I think of it, it is even better. Do I have some sort of a jangle obsession or not? And, I will admit it anytime: catchy melodies have a strange power over me.

Thank you, Throwback Suburbia!

Throwback Suburbia website
Throwback Suburbia at MySpace

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sweet and Sinsational

Lisa Mychols, her talent and tremendously beautiful voice have been sweetening the airwaves and enriching the L.A. pop scene since the early 90s. Mychols is a talented singer, musician and songwriter. I haven’t encountered too many women as talented as her – especially not in the field of power pop! Seriously, sometimes I feel like women are almost non-existent in the power pop scene. With this thought in mind, it becomes obvious that Lisa Mychols is a real gem and a musician of high standards. She is an inspiration.

In the early 90s Mychols recorded a Christmas album with Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko, the guys that would soon be releasing music as Wondermints. This classic Christmas CD is of course called Lost Winter’s Dream, released in 1991, rereleased in 2002. This album is definitely a strong candidate for the category “coolest psychedelic Christmas music”. Mychols and her Wondermints friends give their Christmas tunes a firm 60s treatment with some interesting edge. Lost Winter’s Dream avoids clichés and is therefore a fresh breeze of Christmas spirit. I played this CD during last year's pre-Christmas party season... It was wonderful and I bet everyone else enjoyed it too. The album made a nice addition to many Christmas moments.

Mychols has later played a part in many projects. I am sure that I don’t even know about all of them. To mention a couple of things, Mychols played drums and sang background vocals on Receiver’s album and also provided backing vocals for The Sun Sawed in 1/2’s 1997 album Fizzy Lift. In the late 90s Mychols founded a band called The Masticators with some talented L.A. musicians – including Robbie Rist, our trusted powerpopster. The Masticators released one album (Masticate!, 2000) before breaking up. The album is of course excellent. Gee, I really should start listening to it again right now..

Then there is Sweet Sinsations (2004), the second solo album by Lisa Mychols. Sweet Sinsations became a big thing for me last fall, such a huge source of energy and melodic cheer. The album is awesome all the way and also contains cool variation. Living Doll is a great opening rocker. Later other fabulous tracks such as Oh To Be in Love, Cycles Per Second, and Las Brisas Sun offer some completely different moods. Other favorites include Gonna Get That Boy, Take a Ride, Fun Fair/Old Memories... It is a neverending demonstration of energy and sweetness, an album that will surely get your spirits up. The same year as Sweet Sinsations an EP called In This City was released but it has not been around much.. One shopping link I tried took me to Japan's Amazon.

Nushu is a project that features Lisa Mychols and Hillary Burton. As everyone probably already know (or at least should know) a new album by Nushu has just been released. It is called Hula. I can't wait to get it. Just check out the video for Another Rainy Weekend. Something as fresh and energetic as this is exactly what makes a perfect summer soundtrack. Nushu's first album Nevermind Lullabye came out in 2007... To be honest, I didn't even remember this album existed. I think I will get it too.

And guess what, it seems that Lisa is even working on another solo album. That is very exciting. Well, no more blabbering, I'll just go and listen to some great music by Lisa Mychols! I recommend you do the same. Just let pure melodic rocking sweetness take you over!

Lisa Mychols at MySpace
Lisa Mychols Website
Nushu at MySpace
Nushu Website
The Masticators at MySpace

Another Hard Rock Favorite?

Now that I seem to have learned the basics of late 70s hard rock, I think it is time to move on to other bands of the same era and style. Therefore I have been wondering which band I am going to fall in love next. It is going to be a real challenge to impress me after Styx – I highly doubt any band is going to have nearly as wonderful vocalists as Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw... I test-listened to several bands already last summer and soon discovered Foreigner and the band's self-titled debut album. Lou Gramm's vocals, cool harmonies and melodies caught my attention pretty easily. I think I will discuss that in detail later...

So, what is going to be my next favourite 70s(/80s) rock/hard rock(/progressive rock) band? There surely are many to choose from. It may be Foreigner, Kansas, Asia, Boston or even REO Speedwagon. I have also given some thought to bands like Black Sabbath, Kiss, and Blue Öyster Cult. We'll see what happens... Also feel free to give me a hint! I tend to give a chance to almost any band that people recommend to me.

More about the Next Mania

So, I started blabbering about Styx... Again. Well, that is what happens when you really love a certain band's music. Styx has, in fact, become the best-represented band in my CD collection right after the Beach Boys who have probably more than 15 albums there... Here are the four other Styx albums that have been the soundtrack of my life on many, many occasions.

Cornerstone (1979)

Gimme the Lights! On Cornerstone Styx took a step towards a lighter direction. I tend to think about this album as “Styx pop moment” because there really is not all that much rock (with the exceptions of Borrowed Time and Eddie). Instead, there are great pop melodies and lighter sounds. The harmonies in Why Me remind of the Beach Boys, Lights and Never Say Never have even more incredible harmonies, Boat on the River includes some more mandolin sounds - plus accordion! Power ballads Babe and First Time are some of Dennis DeYoung's most tender songs ever. I adore his power ballads. All in all, this is a fabulous album – just the type to make a girl like me get slightly addicted...

Paradise Theatre (1981)

Then comes an ever more addicting one... And again quite a pop album. Rockin' the Paradise, as well as the amazing Half-Penny, Two Penny, do rock but this theatre is still mostly about pop. Nothing Ever Goes as Planned is sort of a developed version of Why Me: it deals with the same subject and contains cool baroque elements and, all in all, fabulous rhythms. A political theme carries the album forward making the listener pay attention to both the misery and hope of modern society. When it comes to vocal harmonies, songs like The Best of Times and Lonely People may be some of the most ear-melting political songs you are ever going to hear... Some of the songs take an ordinary person's perspective while maintaining the connection to the big social issues.

Even without thinking much about the theme, Paradise Theatre is simply musically so enjoyable that I never hesitate to choose it from my mp3 player or whatever means I am currently using to listen to music. I call this album my favorite Styx album. Other people love it too: it was the first Styx album to go #1. Oh, and did I mention that the Styx harmonies were at their very best on this album?

Kilroy Was Here (1983)

Another concept album, anyone? Well, you don't make great music just by picking an interesting theme... Still, even if you don't pay any attention to lyrics, this album does sound like a fluent line of songs that support each other. This is true of probably any Styx album. Kilroy makes no exception to the Styx concept of making catchy songs with fabulous singing and harmonies, arrangements that serve the songs just right...

Don't Let It End is one of the highpoints here: such a lovely semi-ballad with lots of sweetness and dash of bittersweetness. There are also a plenty of fun non-ballads – I use the word “fun” for a reason. Many instrumentations and even the general feel of this album have such a happy, playful quality which is not all that often heard on a Styx album. Just check out Cold War, High Time, and even Heavy Metal Poisoning. In the latter half of the album there are some more songs in which the mood is a bit more serious. Tommy Shaw does a lovely job on Just Get Through This Night and with Dennis joining him in the vocal section in another ballad, Haven't We Been Here Before, the result is just plain gorgeous.

This album was even made into a theatrical play – I guess you could call that a musical play. Dennis DeYoung's ambitions didn't meet with those of the other band members which resulted in severe conflict. Styx split up but returned seven years later with a new album. During the break Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw embarked on solo careers. Dennis continued developing his ambitions in the sector of musical plays.

Edge of the Century (1990)

This was the first Styx album after a long break. Also the first Styx album for ages not to feature Tommy Shaw. Here, Tommy was replaced by Glen Burtnik who makes quite a good job filling Tommy's role. For a while I actually thought he was Tommy.. Still, Burtnik's songs don't tend to sound like Styx. It is quite OK, though. Dennis DeYoung performs three power ballads, such as Love at First Sight, one of his loveliest pieces ever. Back to Chicago is also fabulous. Here, like in many other Styx songs, Dennis sounds like Freddie Mercury – only better, in my opinion! Edge of the Century is a nice album that shows that Styx has gone through some changes during the years but also that the band is literally Not Dead Yet. For a fan this album is no disappointment.

So. I still have the first four Styx albums to check out, as well as the newest releases, including Brave New World (1999), the last Styx album featuring Dennis DeYoung. After that album Dennis practically got fired from the band, which of course was not even the first time.. The sad part is, it looks like the other guys are not going to take Dennis back this time – it has already been 10 years. Or maybe they are? I cannot be sure. I already listened to Cyclorama to determine how Lawrence Gowan has been able to step into Dennis' shoes. Gowan does resemble Dennis vocally. All in all, he sounds great singing his new songs that he has written for Styx. Despite Gowan's obvious talent, Styx is not Styx without Dennis DeYoung. Therefore I highly recommend taking Dennis back. I believe there is enough room for both DeYoung and Gowan in Styx – no need to throw anyone out to get Dennis back.

The Next Mania

The Beatlemania I had earlier this year subsided after three weeks. My affection towards the Beatles seems to come in short but intense periods. I do love the Fab Four all the time but don't spend much time listening to their music. So, for one reason or another, I was again drawn to Styx, this extremely successful hard rock band from the 70s that I had never heard of until that Come Sail Away cover version by the Sun Sawed in 1/2 (I was also very familiar with a Finnish translated version of The Boat on the River, but I didn’t know it was a Styx song until I actually found out about the band).

I already spent a considerable amount of time last summer listening to this band... And, to be honest, some other 70s rock/hard rock bands too. During the past year and a few months on top of that, I have grown quite attached to Styx. Those magnificently catchy melodies, distinctive synth sounds, powerful hard rock guitars, fabulous baroque elements, impeccable songwriting... Not to mention one of the most gorgeous, amazing voices ever: Dennis DeYoung. Plus his friends Tommy Shaw, James “JY” Young, Chuck and John Panozzo – a batch of great guys who created some of the most stunning vocal harmonies ever.

Because I am such a Styxmaniac and this band has made a huge impact on me in many ways I decided to tell some thoughts concerning eight of the band's albums that I have listened to very much. Here you go.

Equinox (1975)

Lorelei, let's live together... Yeah, why not? Equinox is a very nice album that invites you to join the celebration. Tommy Shaw has not yet joined the band but everything is already very, very much like the Tommy Shaw era. Dennis takes care of almost all of the the lead vocals and the harmonies are staggering. I enjoy everything on this album: Mother Dear, Midnight Ride, Suite Madam Blue... It all makes a fabulous mix of energy and mystique. The album cover depicts a flaming iceberg. Yeah...

Crystal Ball (1976)

A great album that starts with Dennis' energetic keyboards, then later focuses on darker moods and atmospheres. Listen to Tommy Shaw's first appearances on bouncy Mademoiselle and melancholic Crystal Ball, as well as Dennis DeYoung mesmerizing you with Put Me on, obviously, and Clair De Lune/Ballerina, a song that borrows its first part from classical composer Claude Debussy.

The Grand Illusion (1977)

Now begin the masterpieces. Oh, what miracles you can do with a simple organ sound... I still keep wondering the amazingness of Superstars – that magical feel! A bit like Crystal Ball, this album also begins with happier, energetic songs such as The Grand Illusion and Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man), then turns into more melancholic on the latter half (Man in the Wilderness, Castle Walls). And oh yes, Come Sail Away is here. That one is serious stuff.. Serious. When I heard it for the first time I couldn't believe my ears. I still sometimes feel that way. This album is one of my three favourites from Styx, along with with Cornerstone (1979) and Paradise Theatre (1981).

Pieces of Eight (1978)

Money, money, money.. That is what Styx made with this music. Lots of it. Pieces of Eight is another strong bunch of songs. During this long top-selling period the band didn't seem to know how to pick anything but absolute high quality songs to their albums – that is why it is so easy to love Styx. Then, about the songs... Dennis DeYoung is getting in the spirit of power ballads, one of his greatest assets. Check out I'm OK and Pieces of Eight, the title track (Those harmonies in Pieces of Eight... They will melt your heart!). There is also Sing for the Day, an example of the band's lighter sound that features a mandolin and some quite intriguing synth sounds from DeYoung. Tommy Shaw is great on this album. He performs lead vocals to Blue Collar Man (Long Nights) and Renegade, two catchy rockers.

The other four albums coming tomorrow!

Back Again

Recently, I have noticed that I don't write blog posts anymore. It is not that I have suddenly become much busier than before, it is mostly just laziness and lack of confidence. I also sometimes think that no one reads this blog which is definitely not true. One thing is for sure: I miss blogging. I used to be happier when I was more active with this blog.

Musically speaking I am still very, very active. I hope to improve my habits and go back to the way things were when I used to write something several times a week. Writing is great therapy – a perfect way to blab as much as you like without having to pour everything on other people. If you decide to read my thoughts, it's your own decision to make. And if someone does read this stuff, it's really awesome. I'd say everyone wins. Life is great... Really!

From now on, I plan to write at least one post per day – perhaps a cool video if I am too busy to blab. If I am traveling or something, I can write more posts beforehand or afterwards. The next story is about what happened earlier this year. It is kind of old news but it is still quite current too.