Saturday, October 27, 2007

CD Review: Bullet Jones

by Dave Schaefer

This review is long overdue. Released this past summer, the so-called “Demo” EP by local band Bullet Jones is anything but. When I think of a demo, I think of a recording that’s a bit rough. Maybe something that was technologically tossed together -- albeit carefully -- using a bandmember’s cousin’s Mac or exhibiting music and lyrics that could use a bit (if not a lot) of spit and shine. This CD has none of the rough-hewn edges of a typical demo.

Bullet Jones is a classic four piece -- Ryan Cox (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Lee Neuzil (lead guitar), John Allen (bass) and Mat Marcum (drums) -- that plays good old-fashioned, straight-up rock n roll. There’s no gimmicks, no desperate attempt to create some new niche in order to get noticed. Maybe they realize -- and rightfully so -- that they don’t need it.

The CD is filled (well, as much as a 6-song CD can be considered “filled”) with songs that are well-written and well-played. Maybe that’s a bit of an understatement, given the exceptional musicianship that Bullet Jones exhibits both individually and collectively. Cox’s voice is perfectly suited for the songs and can belt out lyrics with clarity and emotion (he shines on “Song #4”) that rivals any million-selling rocker. Neuzil is brilliant on guitar and plays with a precision and style that I’m not sure Columbus can contain. As much as Cox and Neuzil make their mark on this CD, it’s the entire band that works so seamlessly well together that makes this independently-produced CD far better than any rock album that a major label has pushed out over this past year.

Though there are no bad songs on Bullet Jones’ EP, standout tracks are “Ugly Side,” “Song #4,” and the anthemic “Ballad of Bullet Jones.” Each show a different side of the band, allowing the listener to piece together the success that’s in the future for Bullet Jones.

The CD is currently only available at the band's shows, or you can contact them via their MySpace page.

Upcoming shows:
11/18 @ B0MA (Bar of Modern Art)
11/30 @ Ravari Room
12/1 PHILO CD release @ Skully's Music Diner

[UPDATE: I was able to catch Bullet Jones at the Halloween Bash at Andyman’s Treehouse Friday night for the first time. Covering AC/DC during their set, the band belted out the likes of “Highway To Hell” and “Back In Black” (which, according to Neuzil, stressed Cox’s vocal chords nearly to the limit). They put on an engaging 4-song set and although the band’s EP clearly shows their energy, their live show put it to shame.]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

EP Review: Calendar For Preston

by Dave Schaefer

Calendar For Preston is further along than they should be, considering they’ve only been writing songs for a little over a year. Their EP shows a lot of potential for this hometown band. Joey Sexton (guitar), Tom Gutman (bass & keys) and Ryan Harris (drums) pull together the music with frontman Stephen Jordan doing lyric-writing duties. Produced with Jay Hammond at Blue Moon Studios here in Cowtown, the EP exhibits a surprising musical maturity that I was wasn’t expecting.

The music comes off as tight and exhibits very well the talents of Sexton, Gutman and Harris. Jordan’s voice matches the musical style and sounds really good on this recording. The songwriting is exceptional. I believe these guys will move quickly beyond this EP and create songs that may well have more depth both musically and lyrically.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. Jordan’s voice can get a bit whiney at times, and his enunciation needs work -- I still haven’t been able to figure out all the lyrics of half the songs. And three of the five songs have strange bridges that don’t flow with the songs very well, as though they just decided to play a completely different -- and much slower -- song in the midst of a really good tune. It leaves you feeling as though there’s a musical (if not lyrical) hiccup.

But those negatives are outweighed by the positives. I like this EP and my suggestion is for you to seek it out and pick it up. If you already like this band -- or are an introspective melancholic -- you shouldn’t be without it. If you have no clue as to who Calendar For Preston are, check out their MySpace page and listen to some of the tunes. If you want to get your hands on the EP, you’ll have to go to one of their shows, currently that’s the only way it’s available. They’re working on possibly making the songs downloadable from their MySpace page and at in the near future.

Here’s a brief critique of each of the tracks:

Paint By Numbers
This song builds with a great combo of beat and lyrics, though it loses some steam with an odd intro into the chorus. The chorus, however, is excellent and puts the song back on track. The bridge here doesn’t work, slowing the song down considerably and cuts into the power and fun of the song. But overall, it’s a good intro to the EP.

Message Board
The beats and music of this song are superior to the not-with-the-beat, jagged lyrics, but it hits a high with the chorus. Again with the weird, slow bridge that brings the song down, only to speed up to a final chorus. I can’t help wish the bridge just wasn’t there. I have to admit, though, this is the song that I’ve most been finding myself singing to myself without realizing it. Bridge or no bridge, the more I listen to this track, the more I like it.

Trauma Teen
A similar feel to “Message Board,” it gets its own sound about 40 seconds into it. Again, the chorus hits the mark. I find myself really liking the guitar work on this one, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why. This is one of the songs where the bridges actually work and work very well.

Popping Pills
The EP’s best song, this track has angst to the nth degree. A self-tortured soul lamenting his sad existence in the wake of a broken relationship. I find that this is the one that I find myself singing along with the most, even though I usually despise this kind of song, which shows how good songwriting can sometimes transcend. Maybe it’s because Jordan sings it with a mix of subtle irony and just enough emotion not to make it over the top. This is lyrically the best of the EP. Everything works. And no wacky bridge! Woohoo!

Of the songs on this EP, this is the least of a standout. But it’s by no means a bad song, it just sounds a lot like other stuff without being significantly unique. Some of this may be simply because it comes last on the EP and you can’t help but compare it to the higher quality of the previous songs.

My last critique: I wish there were more tracks, so my officemates didn’t have to endure listening to the same five songs over and over and over again. In the meantime, I guess I’ll have to go see Calendar For Preston when they’re playing in town and hope for a full-length soon.

Future shows:
10/25: Lazy Chameleon, Powell, OH
11/3: McCarthy’s, Cleveland
11/9: Slapsy Maxie’s, Columbus

[Update: Apparently my reference to Stephen's voice sounding occasionally "whiney" has created a bit of confusion. It's not that I don't like his voice (I very much do) and how it works with the songs, because it works very well. There's just a few moments where he gets a bit too stylized with his voice instead of letting it stand on its own merit. If I didn't like Stephen's voice, I wouldn't have listened to the EP 21 times
(according to my iPod) just since Friday. :-) -- dave ]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Calendar For Preston

I never skip an opening band. Part of that is practical – you want to get a good spot and plant your feet in preparation for the headliner. But mostly it’s because there’s often a gem in the muck that often accompanies the band whose name is on your ticket.

Case in point: Calendar For Preston. Formerly a cover band by the name of Vinyl, the local boys were added at the last minute as an opener for VHS Or Beta last night at the Newport. They were a perfect match.

Calendar For Preston was new to me. I’d heard of Vinyl, but I really don’t pay a whole lot of attention to cover bands, so I was clueless that they even changed the band name, let alone what that name was. But there’s more than just a superficial name change going on here – now they’re writing and playing their own songs. And they do it well. Pairing equal parts of melancholy and clever lyrics, the band delivers songs that are very listener-friendly and not too emo to be fun. Although some of the songs Calendar For Preston played last night were very similar in notes and sounds, I came away with a sense that maybe Columbus isn’t quite big enough for these guys.

With shades of Panic At the Disco and At The Drive-in, Calendar For Preston creates a smooth alt-pop-rock mix that takes from several recognizable influences but is still able to retain its originality. Lead singer Stephen Jordan is a great front man. His voice is perfect for the music that blends immaculately behind him and he’s got an onstage energy that keeps you intrigued in what the band is playing, regardless of whether you know the song or not. But that’s not to say that the rest of the band is only back-up for Jordan. Ryan Harris on drums, Joey Sexton on guitar, and Tom Gutman on bass and keys were musically tight and without their obvious talent, Calendar For Preston would be just another local band destined for obscurity. And as it stands now, I don’t see the word “obscure” anywhere in their future.
Calendar For Preston MySpace page

[I picked up a copy of their EP last night at the show, so I'll posting a review of it this weekend.]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

VHS Or Beta: Tonight at the Newport

Now a $5 CD101 Low Dough Show, VHS or Beta is playing the Newport tonight. I'll be there and you should be there too. They weren't as dynamic at the CD101 SummerFest as I expected them to be, but, hey, for a mere five bucks, you can't go wrong. Buy a drink, start dancing, and just enjoy the music.

Word has it that they're struggling to find an opening band, so be prepared for an early show.

And ask random guys with shoulder-length blonde hair and a couple facial piercings if they're Dave491. You just might find me.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Ben Lee: Naked

In celebration of the announcement that Ben Lee will be coming to Columbus on November 18 at The Basement, here's a clip that I filmed from the last time he was at that same venue. Enjoy!

And go to Ben's MySpace page to find out how to get in on the pre-sale ticket action on Monday!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ben Lee is coming to Columbus!

Just announced: Ben Lee will be in Columbus, Ohio, at The Basement on November 18!

Ben is absolutely phenomenal in a live setting, so it's definitely not to be missed! If you're planning to go and want to gather ahead of time at House of Crave or somewhere nearby, drop me a line and let me know -- there should never be strangers at a Ben Lee show.

Opening for Ben will be LA's (by way of Nashville) Cary Brothers. No, that's not the Cary Brothers. His first name is Cary. And his last name is Brothers. Check out his MySpace page -- he's a great opener for our favorite Australian.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Love Him Like He’s More Attractive

This morning I was flipping through channels when the new Matchbox Twenty video on VH1 caught my eye. The video had a cool look and so I suspended my channel surfing and watched. Ultimately, it wasn’t as clever as I thought it might be, but I was glad I stopped to watch it because immediately following it was Ben Lee’s “Love Me Like the World Is Ending.”

This is a really good song. As good if not better than Matchbox Twenty’s “How Far We’ve Come” which is getting massive radio airplay right now. Which made me wonder: Would Ben Lee be more successful in this country if he were more attractive? His new album Ripe is one of his best and his previous, Awake Is the New Sleep, is exceptional. Both are full of alternative pop songs that are radio-friendly and ear-friendly. It’s just that, well, Ben isn’t necessarily eye-friendly.

I’m not saying that we can’t be genuinely influenced by quality music and can look beyond looks to see the real artist -- us Ben Lee fans do that every time we see the Ripe cover photo.

But what if he looked more like Rob Thomas?

Or Rooney’s Robert Carmine?

Or Chris Carrabba?

Or Jared Leto of 30 Seconds to Mars?

Or that guy from Fallout Boy?

Or any other pretty-boy pop music icon?

Would he be getting more air time? Would he have more opportunities for promotion? Would we give him more notice? Given the superficial nature of our American culture, I wouldn’t put it past us.