Shane Piasecki could've left Toledo for Nashville and been swallowed up by a music scene that is so competitive it makes the NFL look gentle.
A singer/songwriter in his early 20s, Piasecki is from Liberty Center, but he played Toledo coffeehouses for years and was a fixture on the local scene before moving to Cincinnati a few years ago and then on to the country music capital. His most recent disc prior to "Monday Creek" was "You're Here and I'm A Mess," which was a short, relatively poppy release that was good but not necessarily special.
Now Piasecki has made a serious creative leap, graduating to big boy singer/songwriter status on a disc that is uniformly excellent both from a musical perspective and lyrical standpoint. Comparisons to Radney Foster, Greg Trooper, or Justin Townes Earle are not out of the question, which is heady stuff for a guy making his first proper album.
Produced by bass player Dave Roe, who played on John Mellencamp's latest release, and featuring guitarist Doug Lancio, who worked with John Hiatt, the disc has a country/roots music vibe with a road-weary feel and a mature sensibility. His voice has taken on a rougher timbre and Piasecki lets the songs breathe rather than over-sell them.
The result is an organic album with songs like the title track, "Flat Tire," and "Camping" that have a lived-in sound and rural feel without being corny or overwrought. And just as the energy seems to be flagging mid-disc, he picks it up with the jaunty "Foolish Man," "Lesson," and "Manikin Head," tunes that take advantage of his natural talents as a pop-oriented songwriter while staying in the acoustic groove. There's even a remake of "You're Here and I'm a Mess," which was already pretty good, but is improved on "Monday Creek."
Piasecki should be proud of this disc and it proves that Crystal Bowersox isn't the only Americana-oriented singer/songwriter from Toledo who deserves attention.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
Actor/singer Jim Byrnes spreads his gravelly voice across 12 tracks of the grittiest blues outside of the Delta. These songs conjure memories of the best roadhouse blues, soaked in emotions and made better when chased with whiskey and beer.
Byrnes has honed his blues style over 30 years, twice winning Canada's Juno Award for best album of the year. His special brand of blues passion oozes to the front in his melodies, made intricate by some extraordinary guitar and organ work.
He bills his music as pure and simple, and it's clear that no fancy frills or studio gimmickry are allowed here. Three Byrnes originals are album highlights, especially the opening "Hot As A Pistol," a rough-hewn, lowdown masterpiece.
A car accident in 1972 cost Byrnes both of his legs above the knee. Despite that, he has made his mark in the entertainment industry as a blues performer and as a regular on the Highlander television series, among other shows.
-- KEN ROSENBAUM
So Will.i.am and I were shooting the breeze a few months back (yep, that's first-class name-dropping right there), when I noticed that the Black Eyed Peas ringmaster was in a dour mood. What gives, my famous friend? Answer: Even though BEP's 11-million-selling 2009 album "The E.N.D." was buoying the state of pop, Will was more concerned about the state of the union. He had campaigned for Barack Obama, written songs for the Chief, too. And yet, POTUS let Will down. It made me wonder if the next Peas album would reflect the nation's mood, the shifting zeitgeist, give us something deeper than "I Gotta Feeling" and "Boom Boom Pow."
Well, the answer is on the most introspective track on BEP's new album, "The Beginning." The touching ballad is called "Love You Long Time," a burbling romantic nod to 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny": "Baby, let me love you, let me love you long time," Will pleads. To which phunk buddy Fergie replies: "Boy I'll let you love me, let you love me long time" wait for it "in the Vellllvet Lounge!" Perhaps it's a metaphysical Velvet Lounge?
Will, Fergs, Apl.de.ap, and Taboo may indeed be scholars at home, but in public there's never been a band as comfortable with its red-cup party aesthetic as the Black Eyed Peas. It's why they just scored the halftime gig at Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6. The Peas' party jams are so earnest and happy-to-be-here, it's easy to overlook their crassness, their disposability. The 12 tracks here don't delve deeper than a roped-off VIP section, but why should they? The slimy thing would be for the Peas to pretend they're something they're not.
For the most part, "The Beginning" is all beats and booties, each one driving the other. Is it as catchy as "The E.N.D."? No, but it's still annoyingly ear-wormy. "Don't Stop the Party" is the height of poetry, the titular command repeated over Will's herky-jerk synth and Ferg's smooth R&B hooks. First single "The Time (The Dirty Bit)" samples Dirty Dancing's execrable "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" with a straight face; it's not very good, but at least the group bothered to send a thank-you note to fans.
It's no secret that BEP is more dictatorship than quartet, and the band rises and falls on Will's ability to make it all stick in our heads. If "The Beginning" has a flaw, it's that his neo-disco beats are sometimes too adventurous, too future-shocking. But Will never allows his band to get lost for long. They know the keg needs to be tapped and the dance floor needs to be filled. Say what you want, but the Peas get the job done.
-- SEAN DALY, St. Petersburg Times