CD reviews: Flaming Sandwich, karaoke Bon Jovi
"Fat Salt & Flame"
The latest and seventh album of Sandwich in a 15-year career signifies no major stylistic shifts but instead showcases the essence of the band as a potent live performing unit. It is, according to the band, a pleasurable record to make, with the five members regularly redefining and refining their current direction in rehearsals and in gigs.
The arrangements are typically simple, with drummer Mike Dizon opening the charge, Myrene Academia’s bass setting up the rhythm and the three guitars of Raymund Marasigan, Diego Castillo and Mong Alcaraz lacing the nine songs of "Fat Salt & Flame" with memorable melodies and terrific hooks. It’s the kind of chemistry first heard in the electro-rockism of "S Marks The Spot" (2008) and three albums later, now sounds organic to Sandwich.
A palpable sense of accomplishment infuses the new album and the confident interplay among the musical chefs allows them free rein to “sample” the sounds and trends of the last three decades. Their common love for garage rock shows up in the instrumental title track and becomes the bread and butter spine of the intensely rocking “Back For More,” the first single off the album. These two tracks book-end the pro-rock tendencies in “Week After," dance rock in “Sleepwalker” and feedback-laden noise in “Kidlat.”
Wait, there’s more. Razorback’s Tirso Ripoll unleashes a winding electric solo in “Manhid,” while Academia and Alcaraz do a country-rock croon in “New Romancer.”
"Fat Salt & Flame" comes out in celebration of the band’s 15th anniversary in the music biz. On multiple levels, it’s not exactly a summation of a musical life well-lived. Rather, it’s a self-congratulation that the band has what it takes to carve its own future and send us along to a wondrous carnival ride each time out.
Watch this music video of “Back for More.”
"What About Now?"
It’s never easy being a good band hounded by comparisons with the mythic Bruce Springsteen and past connections with the critically repulsed hair-metal genre. It’s just unfortunate that the backlash came after Bon Jovi released some of the best pop-rock anthems of their time. Even now, only a zombie will ignore the immediate rush of such ‘80s favorites as “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “It’s My Life.”
Frankly, Bon Jovi still matters because the band continues to squeeze more life from its back catalog. Also, frontman Jon Bon Jovi is one handsome dude and guitarist Ritchie Sambora is a monster at chords and progressions that ignite bedroom air-guitar frenzy.
The new album “What About Now?” begs the question of relevance and validity. It opens with the chest-thumping bravado of “Because We Can” and crests to the delicious sing-along of “That’s What The Water Made Me” then on to “Army Of One” and Cars-like new wave of ‘Beautiful World.” Ambling ballads such as the Kansas-like acoustica of “The Fighter” and the Muse bloat of “With These Two Hands” separate the rockers from the lite fodders.
Aside from the glam rock prettiness of the music, Jon Bon Jovi focuses on only two topics—rising above challenges and loving truly and faithfully even if unlike Springsteen he’s pledging to an amorphous unnamed Every Girl. Work and love, how’s that for karaoke worthy songs for Everyman?
Over the album’s stretch, the query in the title earns an open-ended answer. Now is as a good as any for Bon Jovi to strike anew while the thirty-something generation waxes nostalgic on their misspent youth.
"All That Echoes"
Josh Groban plays in almost the same musical playground as Andrea Bocelli even if the former brandishes a thinner tenor than the latter. It’s too easy to throw snide remarks on Groban’s efforts and on his latest album, a disservice to what he pulls off with remarkable aplomb.
Opening track “Brave” keynotes the rest of the album both as a sturdy composition and a cool meeting at the crossroads of classical and pop. Groban treats “Below the Line” with power and grace, easing into the trembling ramble of “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” or strutting to the small-scale Bocelli of “E Ti Promettero” featuring Laura Pausini.
Curious missteps are the sing-song exposition of “Falling Slowly” and the prayer-like mantra of “She Moved Through The Fair.” They contribute little to the flow of the album.
Groban’s craftsmanship is admirable doing it not just to score a hit but also he firmly believes in what he’s doing.