Disc men

Matt Zarley tackles relationships while Adam Tyler delivers smart pop on new releases

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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2.5 out of 5 stars
CHANGE BEGINS WITH ME
Matt Zarley
Independent

Matt Zarley may be all scruff and muscle, but he has a sweet delicacy to his voice that’s properly displayed on his newest album, Change Begins With Me. He’s the product of Broadway, but it would seem his sights are on the music charts.

Back in May, Zarley previewed his album with “WTF,” a whimsical dance track that pitted an earnestly lovestruck singer against the man who done him wrong. The song is borderline silly, if fun, though the accompanying video was painful to watch.

For the most part, the tone of Change is adult contemporary but by a refreshingly new, gay (and far hunkier) version of, say, Michael Bolton or Phil Collins. Well-polished songs beautifully showcase Zarley’s vocal talents, on songs like “Perfect“ and “Forgive Me (For Not Forgiving You)” which evidence a tenderness that makes it almost hard not to swoon along.

Dance tracks, though, don’t do him justice nor add much to the album. His sexy talk in “Trust Me” is unconvincing. As the fifth song, Change, marks a small decline in making a bigger impression. The previous ballads, and even the album opener “WTF,” are engaging enough, but from “Trust” on, the songs almost disappear.

‘CHANGE’ IS GONNA COME | Matt Zarley is a whole lotta hunk, but surprises with an insightful album about his past relationships.

“Apology” and “I’ll Always Remember” display sweet emotion, but with ordinary skill. This is a shame; the album is well paced before it downshifts at this point. The fault though, is in the music. Lyrics resonate strongly and are probably my new go-to when I can’t find the words to appease an angry or hurt boyfriend.

The title track suffers from cheese factor, but it is less a self-help tune than an admission of bad love-life decisions. Zarley holds himself accountable for mistakes he made as a gay man — I’m not sure I’ve heard that message recorded before.  Sure, “Change” swells into a clichéd climactic chorus, but it’s a fascinating juxtaposition from the lead song.

I’m not a big fan of remixes, but the two bonus tracks of “WTF” surpass the original. The beats are a helluva lot of fun to groove to. Instead of reworking the song into an unrecognizable version, the remixes amp up the rhythm and scale back on some of the gimmickry of the original.

With bumps along the way, Zarley provides a collection of songs that start him in a bad situation and result in a brighter tomorrow … so much so that it may beg for an immediate second listen with some songs making more sense.
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3.5 out of 5 stars
SHATTERED ICE

Adam Tyler
Tiger Bay Records

Adam Tyler describes himself as a pop music geek and it shows on his debut release Shattered Ice. This is a good thing. He sidesteps a lot of easy traps to deliver 11 tracks of wow.
On first impression, Ice opens as any other dance album in the “dime a dozen” category, but quickly, the opening track, “Like a Drug,” moves into a techno-rock hybrid, hitting many correct notes. Tyler gives an onslaught of an opener that is held up by subsequent tracks.

The album leans more into electronica elements, but Tyler treats them with care, layering bass-lines and blippy flourishes into solid sounds. “Music Freak” could have easily been a pedestrian effort, but he saves it by not adding extraneous effects. Tyler has a gift for letting the song build itself rather than throwing everything against the wall to see what will stick.

Adam Tyler studies pop music enough to make some of his own with his debut album ‘Shattered Ice.’ With strong confidence, Tyler makes a stellar impression.

Tyler doesn’t have the vocal strength of Zarley, but he belts within reason and recalls some of the quality of Paul Lekakis. He has enough depth to go slower on the opening of “I Won’t Let You Go,” while offering a healthy set of lungs on the title track. There isn’t a lot of surprise in his vocal spectrum. This provides a particular comfort and even consistency, as his music should keep listeners on their toes.

The blemishes on this album are minimal and perhaps expected from a debut. “Forgive Me” is weak with middle school lyrics. “Touch” is a misguided track that begins with a keyboard track that sounds like a child trying to play ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love On Me.” Here, he makes the mistake of adding a little too much flair, and to a slower beat, it misses the bullseye.

The album recovers immediately with strong tracks like “Taking Back My Love” and “Let Me Breathe.”

Shattered Ice finishes with minimal versions of previous tracks that calm the robust energy down. “I Won’t Let You Go” on piano is a gorgeous ballad and “Forgive Me” fares far better as an acoustic tune than it did before in its electro incarnation. These add to Tyler’s versatility.

For a debut, Tyler seems to have set a goal and met it, which would explain the amount  of confidence in Ice. His songs don’t play as mere musical byproducts in search of superstardom. He has a true genuine sound that pulls you in and when it lets go, you almost wish it didn’t.
Thank goodness for the repeat button.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘4’-telling

In her latest, Beyonce tries on new hats while relying on old tricks

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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3 out of 5 stars
“4”
Beyonce
Columbia Records

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Fans might be scratching their heads with Beyonce’s new album, 4. Where is the explosive power? What is it with all these ballads? But she might be having the last laugh. Her fourth solo album (duh) might not have as many potential hit singles, but by dabbling with different formulas she delivers a respectable package — or at least a fascinating one.
Beyonce has proved she can churn out major pop and R&B hits that are smart, fun and have a certain sass, but she holds back big time on 4, setting a mellower tone with a collection of slower tempo tunes.

She croons old-school on the opener “1+1,” her foray into deeper soul. The song is elegant and a surprise, but the second track, “I Care,” makes a far stronger impression. The more mid-tempo ballad is restrained in her verses, but goes way lush in her chorus. The build-up to an emotive guitar solo feels a tad Michael Bolton-ish, but pulls back to a definitive groove.

DROP DEAD DIVA | Beyonce channels ‘80s adult contemporary in ‘4,’ but delivers impressive surprises.

Beyonce slyly fuses her R&B vocals over an ambient electronica beat on “I Miss You.” Is it weird this recalls Haddaway’s 1993 song by the same name? She smartly works with the tune to offer the song as a package rather than showing off her voice and results in a lovely moment. Why she has to rhyme I miss you/like every day/wanna be wichu/but you’re away is beyond me. We get it, B — you’re street and glam.

We’re already getting the impression that she’s given the album a top-heavy atmosphere of ballads that might lose listeners, then comes “Best Thing I Never Had,” co-written by Babyface, which doesn’t dispel this. The pace is picked up slightly but the song recalls those overly polished ‘80s “soul” hits found on lite radio stations (echoed later with “Rather Die Young” and “Love on Top”). She’s channeling her Patti Austin-Regina Belle with cheesy background choruses and keyboards. Let’s not discuss the Dianne Warren penned “I Was Here,” which is ready for movie montages and hackneyed trailers.

Sometimes I wondered if Beyonce was trying to get into some serious soul a la Leela James or Sharon Jones, but kept missing the mark with these smoothed-out tunes that don’t lend much to her attempts. With previous ballads like “Halo,” “Listen” or “Irreplaceable,” we could hear her distinct voice — literally and figuratively. Here, she gets lost and although she’s co-written most of her songs, there’s not a unique sense of the diva.

As if she realized that, she pumps up the jam in the final quarter of the 12-song collection. There’s a relief when the beat-heavy “Countdown” hits at track no. 9. Although disjointed, it’s a welcome reprieve from all her emoting. She does far better with her immediate follow-up “End of Time,” by which time she seems obsessed with drumline beats. She’s pulled it since Destiny’s Child with “Breathe” and most recently with “Single Ladies,” but the horns and that Beyonce swagger we’re used to recall the infectious sounds of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.”

She weirdly placed “I Was Here” in between the happening upbeat songs and kills the mood. But she closes out with her misfired hit “Run the World (Girls).” Again with the military beats, the song didn’t take the world by storm like she probably hoped, but it puts the energy of the album in overload. I couldn’t stand hearing it at award shows or Oprah’s farewell, but after mellowing out for over half an hour, the song saves the album, ending it with a bang. The girl-power message seems passé but that doesn’t make it less fun.
I applaud Beyonce’s efforts not to deliver the obvious. Face it: We all want another “Crazy in Love,” but instead, she opted to stick to her guns and try something new, even if some of it sounded like it was three decades old. Despite its stumbles and confusing paths, 4 could be the one album we look to as her most daring.   •

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Crunch time

Jackie Warner, above, the lesbian trainer whose reality series Working Out certainly counts as one of the most artificial and transparently banal of its type, is back on Bravo in a format that better suits her — or at least my tolerance for Warner’s brand of faux toughness. Rather than watching her battle with her equally annoying Russian girlfriend, or acting as if she’s the most important woman in Hollywood, she’s doing what a trainer should do: Train clients.
Thintervention is The Biggest Loser conducted by surprise. Warner takes on eight clients, including a mother and daughter and a gay guy who says he and his partner are “the hottie and the hippo,” getting them to change their diets and reach their exercise goals. The surprise comes as Warner makes unannounced ambush calls on the clients, barging into their homes and throwing out high-fat foods and shaming them into losing pounds and inches.

As weight-loss shows go — and with Loser, Dance Your Ass Off, Celebrity Fit Club and more, there are an astonishing number of them on TV — Thintervention has the Bravo touch, meaning it’s as much about the host as the contestants. But as just one more in a glut of series, this is buoyed more by the presence of Warner’s super-buff gay trainer Craig Ramsay than Warner herself. Still, we’ll take what we can get.

Grade: C+

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Dancing with the Stars announced its newest lineup of second-tier celebs hoping to waltz away with top honors. The most interesting of the bunch are comic and gay fave Margaret Cho, who is having a busy year with a new album and tour, Bristol Palin and Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. How will Cho interact with Palin?  More important, how much more cut will The Situation’s abs get with all that intense cardio?

The rest of the lineup includes Michael Bolton, Florence Henderson, David Hasselhoff and Brandy. And we’ll find out if baby is put into a corner with Dirty Dancing’s Jennifer Grey in the mix.

— Rich Lopez

Thintervention premieres Sep. 6 at 9 p.m. on Bravo. DWTS premieres Sep. 20 at 7 p.m on ABC.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Margaret and Bristol: Will they face off on DWTS?

Margaret Cho, left, and Bristol Palin

I am not a “Dancing With the Stars” fan. I never really even know who is on the show, much less care who wins. But I may have to change that when the new season starts.

According to Kristin Dos Santos at MSNBC.MSN.com, Bristol Palin — daughter of moose killer and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and baby mama to Levi Johnston — and Margaret “Practically A Gay Man” Cho are both going to be DWTS competitors this time around.

Now, I have no idea whether either one of them can dance. They may well have four left feet between them, and it might be the only beats either of them can hit are the ones they accidentally bump into while stumbling around the dance floor. Or they may both absolutely excellent dancers. Truth is, I don’t care about the dancing.

What I am sure of is that if it ever comes down to a battle of wits, Margaret Cho will be the hands-down winner. And that is the one battle I would love to see!

Oh, and Jennifer Grey of “Dirty Dancing” fame, will be competing, along with basketball player Rick Fox, singer Michael Bolton, Audrina Patridge of “The Hills,” The Situation of “Jersey Shore,” David “The Hoff” Hasselhoff, singer Brandy and Florence “Carol Brady” Henderson.

—  admin