John Fournier is something of an arts renaissance man in Chicago. Besides gigging with The John Fournier Group, the songwriter also garnered attention for an acclaimed multimedia theatrical piece put on at the Second City Theatre. Fournier's Fatty, based on the life of doomed comic Fatty Arbuckle, drew critical acclaim from the Chicago arts press with its incorporation of film footage and an original song cycle pushing the drama.
Fournier's gift for dramatics and storytelling come through strongly on his recent release, Breakfast at Epiphany's. (which also includes the Arbuckle tribute, "That Fat Man Is a Miracle to Me"). On the album, Fournier's insightful and humorous observations are placed in the context of three-minute Pop songs. Fournier's writing and vocal style beg for comparisons to Elvis Costello. His cabaret-like Pop structures are reminiscent of Randy Newman and the Jazz undercurrent (Fournier also blows sax alongside handling lead vocal duties) conjures images of Joe Jackson.
But even with all of those touchstones, Breakfast stands out as a smart, clever and well-crafted album.
There's a slight dose of Cajun boogie on Hey! Hey! Mardi Gras, the latest release from Big Al & The Heavyweights, but don't be too mislead -- the Heavyweights are a gruff roadhouse Blues band that digs into the genre with undeniable glee. The group hails from Nashville (drummer Big Al is a N'awlins native) and has been hailed by numerous Blues critics and fans, including ex-Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd, who spins the disc on his syndicated House of Blues radio show.
Big Al's engrossing rhythms propel the Heavyweights, but the entire band ads spicy ingredients to the Blues gumbo. "Cajun Roux" is an album standout, with a rolling Zydeco backbeat that "Dangerous" Tim Wagoner, the band's singer/guitarist, injects with party-starting vocals and tasty, Crossroads-bound guitar leads. Other highlights include "What Makes You Think," which is a soulful, mid-tempo strut down the done-me-wrong side of the tracks, and the closer, "One More Mile," a hitchhike down to the Delta with acoustic guitar swagger and a blustering harmonica riff along for the ride.
The Florida band Creed are the latest in a line of diluted Hard Rock that has spilled down from the heyday of Grunge. When Stone Temple Pilots came out, there was a complete backlash, as the band was clearly mimicking Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains (two bands who, upon starting out, were also given hell for their seemingly late entrance into the "Grunge" foray). Then came bands like Seven Mary Three and, a little later, Creed, whose own derivation seemed to help STP earn respect.
Today, Creed's brand of Jacor Rock is big business. The band's most recent release, Human Clay, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, beating out Garth Brooks latest, downward spiral into insanity (Chris Gaines sucks, too, y'all). Human Clay is sure to continue selling big, likely matching or surpassing the surprise success of their debut, My Own Prison (anyone else think it's funny that their label Wind-Up was once Grass Records, home to more adventurous acts Brainiac and The Wrens?). The music on Human Clay is more of the same: filtered Classic Rock riffs, overly earnest, melodramatic vocals and a hefty dose of faux angst. Numerous articles have talked about how bands like Buckcherry and Verbena are bringing Rock & Roll back when, in fact, Creed have been huge for the past three years straight. It's not that they're not Rock, it's just that their sound is so lacking in genuine passion and attitude that it's perceived as just another generic product. If Rock has been dead for the past few years, Creed represent the genre's rotting corpse.
With Our Lady Peace and Orleander at Firstar Center.