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Friday, January 19

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CMMayhem!

s/t (self-released)

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CMMayhem! isn't your typical vanity project. For one thing, actor, lead singer and reluctant teen heartthrob Chad Michael Murray takes his band seriously. Very seriously. For another, it turns out his true passion isn't marrying his co-stars. It's hair metal. Sloppy, wild, teased-up, Aqua-Netted hair metal, with hip grinding to wailing guitar licks thrown in. Of course, Murray himself has to keep his hair short ("because of The Man, man") but CMMayhem! is not about image. It's about what the music means.

It was the songs used on his TV series — cookie cutter pop/rock/folk — that encouraged Murray to finally pursue his dream. One Tree Hill's theme song and successive plots revolving around clubs and bands of the moment inspired CMMayhem! "It was a direct result of being forced to listen to the same thing hour after hour, day after day," Murray complains. "'I don't want to be anything other than what I've been trying to be lately'? What does that even mean?" His struggles against the heavy corporate hand of his day job, as well as people refusing to see beyond his pretty-boy shell, inspired the deliberately provocative songs "I'm Nobody's Monkey" and "She Told Me She Was 18, and I Believed Her Because of Love." Murray's attempts to escape his non-edgy legacy has left rock critics confused and his fans wanting more, more, more.

A particular crowd pleaser is CMMayhem!'s inspired cover of the classic children's song "This Old Man." Murray screams, "Knick-knack!" in a falsetto designed to peel the paint off the walls of the dive bars where he prefers to perform. The audience at a recent show — a mixed crowd of teenaged girls with their fake IDs in the back pockets of pink jeans, mulleted headbangers with their upraised hands clenched in devil horns, and a cadre of jaded but fascinated and slumming hipsters — yells back "PADDYWHACK!" obediently. Murray screeches "Give the dog a boh-oh-oh-oh-own!" (yes, there are five o's in bone) before he softens his tone to croon, "This old man came rolling home" over a monster power ballad chord. It's a lament that makes Murray seem far older than his 24 years.

Murray cites Kip Winger as a major influence. He also muses, "I find [fellow actor and musician] Jared Leto to be an inspiration. He managed to shed his Jordan Catalano image and emerge as a true artist speaking for today's disaffected youth." A flicker of ash from Murray's cigarette lands on his crisply pressed black jeans. He leans back in his chair, black tee shirt riding up to show off the abdominal scar from when his small intestine was removed after a football accident. "I mean, he's way too emo for me. But I respect him."

Other band members understand Murray's quest. Drummer Tony Sims explains, "CMMayhem! means a lot to Chad. It's not just a vehicle for him to get into some girl's pants." Bass player Reggie Obor agrees. "This is, for him, a way to express himself: a way to show who the real Chad is. The one who doesn't wear basketball jerseys." Lead guitarist Leon Sidles argues, "Chad isn't like Keanu or Russell Crowe or James Marsters. Those guys are poseurs. They wish they were as hardcore." However, all three men admit that if Murray wasn't involved, CMMayhem! wouldn't be playing to crowds of at least 50.

"It was a really great moment when we realized we were too big for VFW basements," Murray shares. "But at the same time, I want to keep it real, you know?" His soul patch quivers with emotion as he attempts to articulate how much he wants to change the world through his talent. "I don't do this for a living," says Murray, who declines to take any financial compensation that the band generates. "I do this to live."

CMMayhem! will play an all-ages show at the United Center in 2009. Buy your tickets now.
-Dee Stiffler

Boyz in the Woodz

by Anne Holub
Canoox Records

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This year, the song (and group) that everyone's tapping their thongs to comes from some not-at-all-unfamiliar territory, when you consider the continued success of bands like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and The New Pornographers. Yes, just like Bryan Adams, these singers are Canadian.

Rising out of the ashes of the decade's most devastating boy band breakups, such as the demise of O-town, N-Sync, 98° and Fingerbang, comes a phoenix of a boy band — the soon-to-be-super quad — Boyz in the Woodz.

Boyz in the Woodz is Norman, Steve, Jeb, and Mike, all 17 years old, and each born and raised in the northern region of Saskatchewan around Uranium City. The sons of miners, the talented soon-to-be-pop superstars met during a round of mosquito and black fly infestations that left the town with little to do but dab calamine lotion and, of course, sing about love, life and beavers.

Their influences are provincial, but timeless, and include the lyrical stylings of Avril Lavigne, the dance moves of Neve Campbell and the frequent chest pounding of Celine Dion. Their first media attention came after the Saskatoon Summer Music Festival where they charmed audiences with their first hit, "Baby, I Love You Like My Flannel Shirt."

Ever-growing ranks of fans — or "Woodies," as they like to be called — clamored for more and Boyz in the Woodz was quick to give it to them. Canadian radio blasted "You're My Chinook," "Lovin' You, From A to Zed," "Be My Puck Tonite" and finally, their breakthrough hit, "I Love What You're Aboot".

Sadly, the group then stumbled through their second album, with its more political slant. Songs such as "NAFTA Will Bring Us 2getHer" and "I'm Love Sick: So I'm Glad I Have Free Healthcare" fell flat with Woodies and non-Woodies alike. But the group's third album, just released, is burning up the airwaves like sizzling back bacon.

It's a rarity to meet anyone on the street who has not heard the song of Summer '06: "There's a Moose in My Heart, as Big as the World". While the lyrics share some lines with a Big Head Todd and the Monsters song of a similar name, the Boyz hit samples of rump-shaking beats from jams including, most noticeably, Sheena Easton's "Sugar Walls." The teens and tweens are making themselves heard with their buying power, and Boyz in the Woodz are reaping the benefits, shooting to #1 in Billboard magazine as well as in the Canadian rankings, The Canoe Charts.

One thing is sure, whether you're a new Woodie or an old Woodie, these Boyz are going to make your summer hot.
-Anne Holub

 >

Caramel Malone

General Hospitable
Vernor Brothers, 2006

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Times being what they are for the music industry, the impulse to jump on any trend, no matter how fleeting, has reached fever pitch. Whereas it took most of a year before Big Music had xeroxes of the Strokes, White Stripes and Coldplay ready for consumption, the lasers have barely cooled from this summer's sensational CD, Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere, and there's already a copycat hitting the stacks.

Caramel Malone is yet another pairing of a talented DJ discovered through a Beatles remix and a hip hop soul singer, quickly paired up by Vernor Brothers and locked in a studio for their one chance at derivative fame. The DJ in question is Miami based Jose-Marie Galante, aka Orchid Grinder, whose mash-up of Beatles White Album lyrics over Latin-American beats like the samba, mambo and tango tore through file-sharing networks back in '04. The singer is Danni Gold of the Gold Diggas, a B-list female hip hop crew that's been noddin' heads around the Philly club scene for a few years. Gold has been itching to break out to national stardom for some time, if her willingness to supply vocals for any mixtape that comes her way is any indication, so it's no surprise that she jumped at this opportunity.

Unfortunately for Danni Gold, Caramel Malone might raise her above B-List Philly, but it's a rise that ends at the nationwide C-List for now. Granted, Gnarls Barkley is probably just a one-off, too, but at least it has the ear of the for awhile. Caramel Malone is such a cynical reproduction that even its talented team-members can't save it from the discount rack at Sam Goody.

On paper, it's a great combo. Orchid Grinder's Latin-tinged beats complement Danni Gold's smooth and sultry voice in predictable ways, and the songs are infused with a balanced measure of quirkiness. But the hands of the record execs weigh heavily on the material. It's so transparent you can practically hear them dictating the notes: "Track 4 will be an unexpected retro cover, Track 6 will be a groove on suicide, followed by a sexy murder ballad..." And so it goes; Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" stands in for the Violent Femmes, while S&M takes the place of necrophelia on "Mysteryess."

The facsimile is at its worst on the single, "Baby." The samples, the lyrics, the rhythm line up so closely with "Crazy," you could play one song in your left headphone and the other in your right and I bet Danni Gold would sing "Don't leave me baaay-bay!" right in time with Cee-Lo's "Does that make me craay-zay?!"

I'll give credit where it's due, though. The manufactured duo do find some brief moments to shine in between the mirrors, such as the sweet tango break-beat on "Laughing Eyes" and Danni Gold's searing soul improvisations towards the end of "High Pressure Ridge." One gets the sense that if they'd been left to their own devices, Caramel Malone might have made a beautiful record. Maybe they still can — once General Hospitable tanks and Vernor Brothers drops them like a cold potato, they could get back together and create an album that matches their talent. They can call themselves "Kareem Abdul Jibber Jabber" or something.
-Andrew Huff

 

About the Author(s)

Dee Stiffler managed to survive a Ghost of the Robot concert by concentrating on the unbeknownst-to-her underage bass player. However, she did arrange her Christmas 2002 vacation to include a Kane show (and see them again two years later when they rolled through Chicago), so she really has no room to talk smack about bands — real or fake — fronted by WB actors.

Anne Holub swears she never owned an oversized button with NKOTB on it. She writes about things on her Only Mountain.

Andrew Huff is editor of Gapers Block. One of his favorite activities is making up band names. He's convinced "Crazy" is this summer's "Hey Yah."

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