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Norfolk & Western – Dusk In Cold Parlours

Dusk in Cold Parlours is very much an example of exceptional expression in song

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Much like the finer things in life, we are often dwarfed by the domineering constructs that has engulfed daily living. It is not so much the skyscrapers and the colossal structures in which we bide most of our time within, but what such assemblage has come to represent: that perhaps we no longer find sanctuary in nature’s silhouette of smaller miracles. True as it may, the ability to watch the futile means of pop culture unfold on big screen televisions while we endlessly consume from the (dis)comfort of our shelters is in some portion, a miracle. And as comical as it is we are so easily able to disconnect from anywhere we choose to do so, it all really is about as important as the inner workings of a celebrity’s house.

So as cultural importance wanes from music’s public eye, fewer listeners find the time to appreciate things that don’t quite move as fast. It has become the very nature of modern civilization, and with the twitch of non-existent attention spans one is likely to miss something great. Modeled with qualities enriching, and stripped of the plastic factory line lifelessness of excess, Adam Selzer started this recording project back in 1998, and it has since blossomed into something wonderful – plump with the inner beauty of an emerging sunshine and long serving grace that could only be overlooked by human error. Like the tranquility of a new born day, Norfolk & Western kindles a richness in being that blossoms in the simplicity of enjoying beautiful weather. From the whispered folksy disposition of “A Marriage Proposal” to the seemingly measureless calm of “Impossible”, Dusk in Cold Parlours is very much like the instrumentation that crafts its framework; pastoral, solemn, evocative, deeply personal and strikingly demure.

Interestingly enough, unlike say Mark Kozelek and his Ghosts of a Great Highway, Selzer tends to avoid a certain grandeur that can familiarize this rustic setting with long and drawn out paths. He instead limits most of Dusk in Cold Parlours to shorter glimpses into some distant utopian plain. Many of the songs are far less stretched in length, and escapes before the air becomes thin. Although it could be said that perhaps he leaves a few with feelings of “works in progress”; but not in such a way that any feel unfinished and/or deficient.

Like the quaint murmur of the unaccompanied “At Dawn or After Dusk” and the similarly subdued “Jealousy, It’s True” – a great deal of the album rests on the soul of Selzer and his guitar. And the closeness in which the songs come across fittingly thrives as the album’s warmest and most genuine trait. Herein lays the album’s sole vulnerability; that perhaps he overestimates the intimacy some listeners are willing to delve into. It is because the album itself, while not overly dramatic, relies on true appreciation of the more subtle concepts and ideas of musical arrangement. With it comes the need for patience, and unfortunately, it seems patience is a virtue practiced very little by the squirmy, fidgety majority. Case in point, the two instrumental tracks (the lush “Kelly Bauman” and the slow building “A Hymnal”) could easily be passed over if one were not to take the time and listen to both. Simply because they are so deep with resonance, and the absence of words means the instruments are to do the talking, and they speak with certain eloquence.

The aforementioned “Impossible” is Selzer at his most telling; a gentle soft spoken reflection coated with a disarming sense of loss and sadness. Akin to the feelings evoked, the music is very much in tone; stirring, unhurried and driven by the echo of throated whispers, soft string-strumming, and long aching contemplation. These moments are meant to be cherished, because they uniquely chart sentiments of a singular person, but are undoubtedly capable of reaching so very many who wish to be present and listen. Dusk in Cold Parlours is very much an example of exceptional expression in song; and for those who do not reap the words of wisdom from renaissance men and high school wise guys determined to take a day off from school – you could very well miss it.

(Hush Records)

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Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP

Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper

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Alice Cooper Breadcrumbs

For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.

So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.

On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.

The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.

Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.

(earMUSIC)

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Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill

The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good

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Goo Goo Dolls Miracle Pill

One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.

They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.

The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.

Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.

The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.

(Warner Bros.)

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