R.E.M.: Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Edition) [Album Review] 0 345

R.E.M.
Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Edition)
Craft Recordings [2017]



headphone approved reissue






Fire Note Says: A masterpiece for all times!

Album Review: R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People is a masterpiece that gets a lot of love on its 25th anniversary. A live disc and 20 demos/outtakes accompany the original album. The extras are interesting and noteworthy; the live performances are nothing new for fans of the band but are still fun. The demos demonstrate R.E.M.’s process for song creation, which sheds light on how much of a team the band was. Everyone contributed, everyone took songwriting credits. This cohesion helped the band re-create their sound and diversify over 30 years.

R.E.M. means a lot to me. They helped me find new parts of myself that I never knew were there. And Automatic For The People was the first step in that process. R.E.M. is an authentic band. They were never the most technically gifted. Michael Stipe’s voice is by no means the strongest that music has ever seen; however, he can emit such a range of emotion that amazes me more and more as I grow older and listen to a lot of vocalists who don’t measure up in that regard. Any band that can release “Shiny Happy People” unironically is willing to take chances and to be genuine, no matter how uncool that is. R.E.M. was never anything but themselves.

I can still remember watching the video for “Everybody Hurts” the first time. I was aware of R.E.M. before then – I have memories of watching the video for “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” on Friday Night Videos. I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself with Youtube. “Stand” was cool, “Losing My Religion” was popular but I didn’t understand why. But “Everybody Hurts” struck the 14-year-old version of me to the core. The video was so striking. The subtitles; the traffic; the inclusivity. For a video that’s 25 years old it’s amazing the diversity of the characters that it contains.

The feelings I have as I listen to Automatic For The People are those of sadness and hope. There are pained characters throughout the album who are dealing with questions of mortality and loss. Of the cost of being genuine. Of how to make a difference when the system is stacked against you. I respect that there is no hiding from these difficulties, and R.E.M. pulls no punches. And that makes the album’s last three songs all the more impactful.

“Man On The Moon” celebrates a man who subverted social conventions. I can understand why Andy Kaufmann was so celebrated by the band. “Nightswimming” is so rich with nostalgia. Sometimes Stipe’s lyrics (and vocals) were so obtuse it made me wonder if they meant anything at all. Not so with this song. Stipe paints such a vivid picture with such clear vocals, he puts you right there with him. The arrangement, consisting of strings and piano, doesn’t sound like a rock band. And it doesn’t matter. My favorite line is the simple “Pining for the moon.” Just the delivery of that one line is perfect. It encompasses what R.E.M. does so well.

“Strength and courage overrides the privileged and weary eyes.” That line from the album closer “Find The River” shows audacity in the face of life not going our way. And that’s the theme for Automatic For The People. Life is challenging and wearisome and brilliant and heartbreaking. It comes to an end. We spend most of our lives trying to escape that reality. R.E.M. found a gentle way of encouraging us to grapple with our condition, hoping that it would lead to greater kindness and peace. It’s a message we’ll always need.

R.E.M. Website
R.E.M. Facebook
Craft Recordings

– Reviewed by Matthew Heiner

Matthew Heiner

Matthew Heiner

I appreciate being able to write for The Fire Note, as it gives me an excuse to keep up with what's happening in new music.

By day I am a dad and a psychologist; I often use music as a way to connect with both my kids and my clients. One of my proudest moments as a father was when my 12-year-old daughter told me of her undying love for Radiohead.
Matthew Heiner
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Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers: Forest Full Of Wolves [Album Review] 1 858

Bill Mallonee & The Big Sky Ramblers
Forest Full of Wolves
Self-Released [2018]







Fire Note Says: Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world.

Album Review: No one is ever going to call singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee an under-achiever. His latest release, a 10 song full-length effort, Forest Full of Wolves is his 78th album by his own count. Mallonee spent the 1990s fronting the Athens, GA-band Vigilantes of Love, shuffling from one label to the next, driving a van from coast-to-coast playing every alternative rock/Americana friendly venue who would let them. Hometown friend, Peter Buck (R.E.M.) co-produced one of the band’s early more-acoustic albums, the Killing Floor. The band’s 1999 album, released on three different labels of the course of 18 months, Audible Sigh was produced by Nashville’s favorite side-man Buddy Miller, and includes a guest vocal by Emmylou Harris, as well as some of Mallonee’s best loved songs. Paste Magazine has named him one of the 100 greatest living songwriters.

A rough count, say there were 10 songs per release (usually there were more), puts Mallonee’s songwriting output at nearly 8000, and those are the one’s he’s recorded. Now basic logic would suggest that they can’t all be good, and surely not all of them are memorable, but Mallonee’s work, his actual raison d’’etre, has proven especially consistent over the decades, and in the 2010’s he’s delivered a solid album’s worth of tunes each year, with a noticeable uptick in production values starting with 2011’s The Power & The Glory. Last year’s excellent The Rags of Absence was a case in point, with Mallonee especially attentive to his lead guitar parts.

Forest Full of Wolves continues to chronicle the challenges to working class people and even songwriters, as if Mallonee is creating his own musical version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” for what he calls this “new dark age.” “Greed and fear (have) gained the upper hand,” he sings in “Changing of the Guard,” so he’s “grabbed a guitar & a notebook or two… became a phantom with some conjuring ‘neath the moon.”

Musically, Wolves takes the energy of Rags to the next level, with bigger, noiser guitar tones. Mallonee captures a Neil Young jamming with Crazy Horse in the garage vibe throughout, which is likely a lot harder to pull off since Mallonee’s playing all the instruments. Mid-tempo alternative country rock at it’s most earnest and relevant, and against all odds, Mallonee manages to offer a word of hope. “In the New Dark Age” he sings, borrowing the title from a different song that he recording on 2014’s The Winnowing, “the best thing you can do is fall in love.” Of course, “Love Is Always Risky Currency,” but it’s the best chance any of us have of surviving in this “Forest Full of Wolves.”

Like many artists scrambling to make art in the challenging digital marketplace and survive financially Mallonee has struggled to reach out and connect with Americana fans, break ground with new audiences, even though he’s stayed off the road in recent years. As a fan who first heard the singer songwriter live in the early 90’s, and many times over the years, Bill Mallonee is one of those best-kept secrets you really want to share with the rest of the music loving world. It’s artists who wear their passion on their sleeves, who keep pouring out their hearts in songs, that make the music that matters. (One reason to order the hard CD copy of this one, is the cover art produced by another singer songwriter, Chris Taylor, from San Antonio, TX.).

Key Tracks: “In the New Dark Age” / “Voodoo Ink” / “Trimmed & Burning”

Artists With Similar Fire: Neil Young / Bob Dylan / John Prine

Bill Mallonee Website
Bill Mallonee Facebook

– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb

Matthew Heiner

Matthew Heiner

I appreciate being able to write for The Fire Note, as it gives me an excuse to keep up with what's happening in new music.

By day I am a dad and a psychologist; I often use music as a way to connect with both my kids and my clients. One of my proudest moments as a father was when my 12-year-old daughter told me of her undying love for Radiohead.
Matthew Heiner

Stars: There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light [Album Review] 0 425

Stars
There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light
Last Gang Records [2017]

ratings3_5






Who: Veteran indie pop band from Canada.

Sound: Indie pop with a heart and a head.

TFN Final Take: Stars is like a well-worn glove that is comfortable, reliable, but lacking in surprise or unpredictability. There is nothing wrong with that; they are still great at what they do. And what they do is construct a song, engage you, and give you space to reflect on what you’re hearing. My standout track is “Alone,” which has a chorus that stuck with me. The song takes its time to unfold and then slowly recedes into silence. “Real Thing” is another good one that throws an off-speed pitch for a chorus. Per usual, established fans will find a lot to like in the latest album and new fans will hopefully take advantage of Stars’ great catalog.

Stars Website
Stars Facebook
Last Gang Records

– Reviewed by Matthew Heiner

Matthew Heiner

Matthew Heiner

I appreciate being able to write for The Fire Note, as it gives me an excuse to keep up with what's happening in new music.

By day I am a dad and a psychologist; I often use music as a way to connect with both my kids and my clients. One of my proudest moments as a father was when my 12-year-old daughter told me of her undying love for Radiohead.
Matthew Heiner

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