|Runaway / Neal Hartley||Neal Hartley||4:50|
|Be Near Me / Neal Hartley||Neal Hartley||3:00|
|The Way / Neal Hartley||Neal Hartley||5:00|
|Though I Can't See / Neal Hartley||Neal Hartley||4:19|
|Who You Are / Neal Hartley||Neal Hartley||4:53|
The hotly anticipated to sequel to 2014's sci-fi/superhero blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, the aptly named Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 sees composer Tyler Bates working once again with director James Gunn, delivering another rousing score that's worthy of term "space opera." Just like the first installment, Bates' score is given its own release, with the classic rock-heavy soundtrack being issued under the name Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 2.
The format for single-artist Christmas albums has remained static nearly since the dawn of the LP: a popular artist reprises his sound of the moment in a Christmas setting, sometimes mixing sacred material with secular, but always generating a time capsule that rarely holds up to repeated listenings. The Beach Boys recorded one of the best rock Christmas records of all time, and contributed an even rarer thing than a good holiday album -- a new composition to add to the canon in "Little Saint Nick." Brian Wilson's first solo Christmas album (although he did attempt a second Beach Boys edition in the mid-'70s) was recorded with the same group that made his 2004 SMiLE LP, and it shows the influence of that record.
The two new songs are intriguing because each pairs Wilson with a great rock lyricist.
The first, "What I Really Want for Christmas," finds Bernie Taupin thrusting some fine sentiments into a very SMiLE-like melody. The other is the odd title "Christmasey," written with Jimmy Webb, a bright song with a kinetic power that makes it the highlight of the record. Surprisingly, Wilson doesn't shy away from the sacred material -- in fact, nearly half of the songs are hymns -- and sings multiple verses of "Hark the Herald Angels" and "O Holy Night" like he's reading straight from the hymnbook (except for the excellent new vocal arrangement he writes for the beginning and outro of the former). Wilson's oddly emphatic vocals don't quite suit the Christmas concept, but the arrangements and treatments are very good; the long instrument list and sound will be familiar to Beach Boys fans who have long since memorized the credits on Pet Sounds and SMiLE. Only two choices are puzzling: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" definitely doesn't benefit from a backbeat, and things get a bit confused on "The Man with All the Toys" when the band essays a single line from "O Come All Ye Faithful" ("let every heart prepare him room") and the listener starts wondering whether they're still talking about Santa Claus.
One nice fillip for Beach Boys fans is how Wilson consciously swipes the beginning of the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" (long recognized as his favorite song) for the bonus track "On Christmas Day."
Essentially a solo project for Spinning Jennies frontman Jeff Shelton, the Well Wishers' Twenty-Four Seven is a blissed-out smack of honey that's fueled by late-summer sunsets and misguided road trips. Power pop, while disposable, is hard to throw away when it sounds this good. From the very first lick it's evident that Shelton knows how to sink a hook into you.
"See for the First Time" delivers the same kind of instantly gratifying melody that made Brendan Benson's "Tiny Spark" such a pop underground hit -- both songs celebrate the heavy guitar/analog synth interplay that the Cars perfected 20 years ago. Vocally, Shelton has the kind of fluid, vibrato-less croon that so many singers yearn for, so comparisons to Andy Partridge are inevitable, but the punchy production and tube-blown sound of tracks like "Sex & the Suburbs" and "Bustin Up" owe more to Cheap Trick and the Posies than they do to XTC. He breaks out of the mold occasionally with wistful ballads ("Dead Again") and country-rockers ("Something on Your Mind"), but rarely deviates from the pool of hummable melodies and hooks that has so obviously influenced him since his first Kiss record. There's honestly not a bad song on the album, and despite the occasional detour into teeth-rotting lyrics like "Drop me a note/Send me a line/Bring me good wishes from my lonely, funny valentine," the joy that went into making these delicious morsels is evident throughout, resulting in a great collection of songs to make out, break up, and get nasty in the back of an El Camino to.