Archive for September, 2009

Album Review: Pearl Jam, Backspacer

Posted: September 25, 2009 in Album Reviews

backspacer

A new release by Pearl Jam is always welcome, as they’ve been amazingly consistent throughout their 18-year recording career. They’ve never released a bad album, and while some are certainly better than others, each release has moments of brilliance.
Their ninth studio release, Backspacer, came out earlier this week, and it’s definitely one of the band’s best. Its 11 tracks literally fly by in a brisk 37 minutes, and not a moment is wasted.
The band gets things off to an exhilarating start with four punchy rockers, each of which clock in at three minutes or less. “Gonna See My Friend” and “Got Some” are more punkish, while first singer “The Fixer” is extremely catchy, almost poppy. “Johnny Guitar” has some unique rhythmic changes, and each of the first four gems contain amazing singing from Eddie Vedder (who shines, as usual, throughout the record) and strong guitar interplay from Mike McCready and Stone Gossard. The rhythm section (drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Jeff Ament) keep things moving in the right direction and its probably the hardest rocking opening four tracks of any Pearl Jam album.
But what has made PJ such an enduring band is its ability to shift gears, change the moods. While this album doesn’t contain as many experimental, way out there tunes as other Pearl Jam releases, it contains two amazing ballads in the acoustic “Just Breathe” and album closer “The End.” Vedder describes “Just Breathe” as the closest Pearl Jam has ever gotten to a love song, and he’s right. But it’s far from a cheesy schmaltzfest, the feelings in the lyrics and the singing are genuine and extremely effective. “The End” deals with mortality and how Vedder “just wants to grow old.”
Other highlights are the straight-ahead rocker “Supersonic” and the majestic “Amongst the Waves,” but I highly recommend the whole disc. I’ve listened to it four times now (I can get through it beginning to end on my 35-minute commute to work) and it seems to get better with each listen, a sign of an album that will stand the test of time.
The Sod rating: **** 1/2

Pearl Jam catalogue (as heard through my ears)
Ten (1991) **** 1/2
Vs. (1993) *****
Vitalogy (1994) *****
No Code (1996) ****
Yield (1998) *** 1/2
Binaural (2000) ****
Riot Act (2002) ****
Pearl Jam (2005) **** 1/2
Backspacer (2009) **** 1/2

Ratings system
***** Hall of Fame album
**** Perennial all-star
*** Solid starter
** Bench warmer
* Jim Pankovits and Archi Cianfrocco

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Football picks

Posted: September 18, 2009 in Odds and Sods

Just posted this at my other blog, The Grounds Crew, figured I’d do it here as well.

I missed out last week, but I’m going to try to do football picks from every week here on out. I’ll tackle college and the pros, and while I’ll mostly stick to the Top 25 college games, I’ll also pick a few of the more intriguing matchups.

Temple at 5 Penn State
Temple hasn’t beaten Penn State in Happy Valley since the FDR administration….
Penn State 56, Temple 7

11 Ohio State at Toledo
The Buckeyes will be mighty ticked after blowing a golden opportunity last week against USC….
Ohio State 38, Toledo 17

East Carolina at 24 North Carolina
East Carolina usually puts up a good fight against its Carolina brethren…
North Carolina 19, East Carolina 14

Eastern Michigan at 25 Michigan
The Wolverines get to stay in the AP poll another week…..
Michigan 35, Eastern Michigan 3

Duke at 22 Kansas
This would be one heck of a matchup in college basketball. Unfortunately, this isn’t college basketball….
Kansas 49, Duke 6

8 California at Minnesota
This might be closer than the 14-point line indicates, but Cal wins it….
California 27, Minnesota 17

North Texas at 4 Alabama
Saban’s squad wins in a laugher…..
Alabama 58, North Texas 7

3 USC at Washington
The Huskies actually will have the better quarterback in this one, as USC freshman Matt Barkley is out with an injury. Jake Locker is no slouch and former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian will turn this once proud program around. Probably not this week, though…
USC 31, Washington 14

18 Utah at Oregon
Oregon 38, Utah 27

Tulsa at 12 Oklahoma
The Sooners get back on track….
Oklahoma 51, Tulsa 13

19 Nebraska at 13 Virginia Tech
You have to give the Hokies a lot of credit, they’ve scheduled some tough non-conference opponents. This will help them out big time later in the year…
Virginia Tech 24, Nebraska 20

Tennessee at 1 Florida
Lane Kiffin ran his mouth, and while the Volunteers may eventually return to elite status in the SEC, it certainly won’t be this year. Look for the Gators to run it up…
Florida 55, Tennessee 10

17 Cincinnati at Oregon State
I’d usually go with the Pac 10 over the Big East, but Cincinnati is an up and coming power in a weak conference. Many people agree with me, as Oregon State started as a 2 1/2 point favorite, but now Cincinnati is favored by one…..
Cincinnati 35, Oregon State 23

Rice at 16 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State flamed out big-time last week against Houston. They’ll get well in a hurry against Rice…..
Oklahoma State 48, Rice 12

La. Lafayette at 9 LSU
LSU romps….
LSU 58, La. Lafayette 10

Florida State at 7 BYU
The Seminoles’ porous pass defense gets lit up again. BYU’s favored by 7 1/2, doubt it will be that close….
BYU 41, Florida State 21

SE Louisiana at 5 Mississippi
Jevon Snead gets to pad some stats….
Mississippi 55, SE Louisana 6

23 Georgia at Arkansas
Bulldogs fall out of the rankings after this one….
Arkansas 31, Georgia 24

Texas Tech at 2 Texas
No Graham Harrell, no Michael Crabtree, no chance for Tech.
Texas 62, Texas Tech 27

Other non top 25 games
Navy at Pittsburgh
Navy nearly pulled off the upset at Ohio State, they get it here….
Navy 24, Pittsburgh 23

Northwestern at Syracuse
The Orange have played two Big Ten schools in the Greg Paulus era, nearly upsetting Minnesota and putting up a game effort against a much-better Penn State squad. They get their first win this week at the Carrier Dome….
Syracuse 24, Northwestern 21

Arizona at Iowa
Iowa’s favored by 6, I’m not buying it….
Arizona 31, Iowa 26

Buffalo at UCF
George O’Leary’s squad is the favorite at home, but Turner Gill has done one heck of a job at Buffalo….
Buffalo 28, UCF 27

And on to the pros….
Oakland (+3) at Kansas City
Raiders looked good in opening loss to Chargers. Take them here….
Raiders 28, Chiefs 24

Tennessee (-6 1/2) vs. Houston
Texans got stomped by the Jets and a rookie quarterback last week. Titans lost a tough overtime battle to the world-champion Steelers.
Titans 24, Texans 10

New England (-3 1/2) at N.Y. Jets
Beating the Texans was one thing for rookie Mark Sanchez. Topping Tom Brady and the Pats is another altogether….
Patriots 31, Jets 16

Cincinnati (+9) at Green Bay
Bengals were surprisingly good on defense last week against Denver. The Packers will win this at home but the Bengals will cover…
Packers 21, Bengals 14

Minnesota (-10) at Detroit
It’s a large point spread, but the Lions haven’t won since 2007. They won’t get off the schneid this week either…..
Vikings 38, Lions 12

New Orleans (pick em) at Philadelphia
This is an intriguing matchup, but if Donovan McNabb doesn’t play, I like the Saints. I still might have taken the Saints otherwise, but if Kevin Kolb starts, New Orleans wins….
Saints 27, Eagles 20

Atlanta (-6 1/2) vs. Carolina
Turnover machine Jake Delhomme plays himself out of a starting job this week….
Falcons 24, Panthers 7

St. Louis (+10) at Washington
The Rams are terrible, but I don’t see the Redskins’ offense putting up a lot of points, either…..
Redskins 23, Rams 14

Arizona (+3) at Jacksonville
Look for the NFC champs to rebound after a lackluster first week against the 49ers.
Cardinals 20, Jaguars 16

San Francisco (-1 1/2) vs. Seattle
Mike Singletary’s boys start the year 2-0 with another ugly win…..
49ers 17, Seahawks 14

Buffalo (-5) vs. Tampa Bay
Bills erase bad taste from opening chokefest against Pats….
Bills 27, Bucs 20

Cleveland (+3) at Denver
The Broncos didn’t look particularly good in their opener against the Bengals. Look for Brady Quinn and Braylon Edwards to find the chemistry lacking in last week’s game. Browns in an upset….
Browns 19, Broncos 14

San Diego (-3) vs. Baltimore
Ravens defense is tough, but look for Philip Rivers and the boys to win at home….
Chargers 24, Ravens 13

Pittsburgh (-3) at Chicago
Jay Cutler couldn’t have looked much worse in his debut. He’ll be better, but the Steelers are a better team than the Bears….
Steelers 21, Bears 13

N.Y. Giants (+3) at Dallas
Tony Romo did just fine without T.O. last week. But the Giants have a much better defense than Tampa Bay, and they’ll come after him with a fearless pass rush….
Giants 27, Cowboys 23

Monday night
Indianapolis (-3) at Miami
Just don’t think the Dolphins have the magic this season. They fall to 0-2 with this loss….
Colts 24, Dolphins 17

Beatlemania lives

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Beatles

beatles-stereo-box
It’s about time.
The Beatles, the greatest rock band of all time in my and many others’ humble opinions, finally get the sonic treatment they deserved with this week’s re-release of their entire catalogue, digitally remastered.
The release coincides with the unveiling of the Beatles RockBand video game to the world, which gives the band a new outlet to introduce their music to today’s youth.
For me, the reworking of the band’s catalogue is the real treat. All 13 original albums plus a two-disc collection of all the non-album singles/b-sides have been cleaned up. The songs are already great, but the sound quality is light years ahead of the original cd releases (which came in 1987). The Beatles’ catalogue was long neglected, while contemporaries such as the Rolling Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin had their work remastered, in some cases twice.
The packaging of these new cds is something to behold, as they come with lots of pics (some of which I’d never seen) and updated liner notes to fill a listener in on the recording of each album. Each cd also has an embedded mini-documentary which gives you even more information on how the albums came to be.
But the key is the sound. The instruments jump out of the speakers like never before. I always knew Paul McCartney was a fantastic bass player, but you can really hear the intricate bass lines on these remasters. Ringo doesn’t get enough credit as a top-flight drummer, but you can hear his wonderfully placed fills and impeccable timing. And the singing? Always fantastic but never clearer than presented here.
I bought the stereo box set at Best Buy and haven’t listened to all the discs yet (although I’ve put a good dent in them). To let you know how much I think of these albums, I also bought the new Jay-Z and Phish discs, and haven’t opened them up yet. I may have heard the Beatles’ songs a million times, but I just can’t begin to explain their music’s impact on my life. There truly will never be another Beatles. I’m utterly amazed on their staying power. It’s been almost 40 years since they broke up, yet they’re arguably just as popular today as they were then. Fab indeed.

arcticmonkeys
Young British rockers The Arctic Monkeys recently released their third album, Humbug. The band, huge in their native United Kingdom, haven’t yet achieved stateside success. But that seems more due to the lack of taste in music over here (I’m looking at you, Daughtry, Nickelback and Black Eyed Peas) than anything else.
The Arctic Monkeys are exciting, with lead vocalist/lyricist Alex Turner’s biting sarcastic wit and energetic singing complimenting the garage-band sound of guitarists Jamie Cook and Nick O’Malley. Their first release, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not bursted with energy, and its rough, gritty sound helped make it a fantastic debut. The follow-up, 2007’s Favourite Worst Nightmare was a more polished effort, full of excellent songcraft but lacking much of the immediacy and vitality of the debut.
For their latest effort, the Monkeys recruited Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme to do the producing duties, and his presence is felt all over Humbug. The Arctic Monkeys’ sound is denser and darker than ever before, and the guitar work often sounds more psychedelic (Homme’s influence is everywhere, as he plays guitar and sings backup on several of the tracks). The last three tracks “Dance Little Liar”, “Pretty Visitors” and “The Jeweler’s Hands” are unlike nothing the band has recorded, with an almost Halloween-esque organ augmenting “Visitors.” There’s still some good straightforward rock like lead single “Crying Lightning” and “Dangerous Animals” but even those have more layers and surprises than before. These twentysomethings keep getting better, pushing the envelope with each release. Sod rating: ****

Other Arctic Monkey releases:
Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) ****
Favorite Worst Nightmare (2007) ***

Welcome to the show, Josh Thole

Posted: September 3, 2009 in Mets

OK, so I’ve been a little unreliable on posting to the blog lately. But for once, something positive happened in Metsland so I figured I’d share. Josh Thole, who was batting .328 at Double-A Binghamton, recently earned his first trip to the big leagues. After sitting on the bench for two days while “studs” Omir Santos and Brian Schneider looked typically inept, Thole got his first start in this afternoon’s game with the Rockies. Thole singled to right in his first at-bat and later stole a base (he was stranded when pitcher Pat Misch hit into an inning-ending double play). Thole later doubled in the ninth, making him 2-for-5 in his first big-league start. Also hit the ball hard in his second AB, a lineout to center. Thole isn’t much of a power hitter (he hit just one homer at Double-A) but has a nice line-drive stroke. He chokes up on the bat and appears able to hit the ball where it’s pitched. He doesn’t strike out much and seems to work the count pretty well. And oh yeah, the Mets won 8-3 to salvage a game against the Rockies. Seems the best the Mets do these days is take one of three. They’re 60-74 and have the ninth-worst record in the bigs. Come on boys, a few more losses and you can bypass Oakland (59-74), Toronto (59-74), Cleveland (58-75) and San Diego (59-76) with an outside shot of catching Pittsburgh (53-79) and Baltimore (54-80). A top 5 pick in next year’s draft would help ease the pain of a horrendous season. But if Omar is making the pick, they might as well win a few more games. Just wish Manuel would give Nick Evans and Thole more starts. If we’re going to follow bad baseball, we might as well do it with young guys and not Fernando Tatis, Wilson Valdez and Schneider.
HATS OFF TO MISCH: Take a bow Pat Misch, you finally earned that first major-league win. A second straight quality start for Misch, who went seven strong innings today. Don’t expect much from this guy, but it’s nice to see a journeyman finally have a bit of success.