Friday, December 21, 2007

Wolfmother: Please Experience Wolfmother Live

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Coming from a land down under to rock the night away is Wolfmother, and if you can’t catch them live, then their new DVD is the thing for you. Please Experience Wolfmother Live is over an hour of the band keeping the classic rock sound alive and moving forward to reach a new crop of fans and hopefully turn them on to their influences. From the start you can hear that these boys were raised on rock with such big names as Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin.

After an intro by Jackass’ Johnny Knoxville, Wolfmother hits the stage and doesn’t stop their sonic attack until the last song. From the get-go, Chris Ross (bass/organ), Myles Heskett (drums), and be-afroed Andrew Stockdale (vocals/guitars) hit hard. You can hear all their influences right away, different band styles are prominent on a certain song but it all fades to black as you lose yourself in the tunes from their debut album. Yet far from mere imitation, Wolfmother sounds as if they could have stood next to those giants and made their mark.

From fast and hard-rocking gems like “Dimension,” “Apple Tree,” their big hit “Women,” and my favorite the funk-infused “Love Train” to the slower and darker tunes “White Unicorn” and “Witchcraft” their entire repertoire is loud, heavy, and thunderous. Keeping all classic rock bases covered the sprawling, psychedelic, chord-bending “Mind’s Eye” takes you on a “Chambers Brothers meets Pink Floyd” trip where you can close your eyes and imagine stars streaming past and the gates of doom up ahead as it all comes to a crashing reverberating close, ending with Stockdale playing from his back on the floor.

If the title of the DVD doesn’t bring Hendrix to mind and give you an idea of what’s in store, then the closing number “Joker & The Thief” should do it. The speed of the song makes it seem as if the band’s sound is spinning and winding up like a musical tornado with Stockdale cutting loose on his Jack White-esque vocal bleats while the drums pound to a stop behind him and the organ keys are mashed conjuring images of Ray Manzarek.

The DVD bonuses are just as awesome as far as the Wolfmother experience is concerned, containing three more live performances from the band from 2006, one from an awards show in Sydney, Australia, and two from the Brixton Academy in London, UK. The Brixton show is edited to look like a ‘60s/ early ‘70s rock film with its slip-screen mirror effect. The DVD also includes five music videos, “Joker & The Thief,” “White Unicorn,” “Love Train,” “Mind’s Eye” and “Women,” most of which consist of more live footage from the Mother playing around the world. “Mind's Eye” was filmed live from some desert location known as the Devil’s Punch Bowl and “Joker” features the Jackass crew on tour with the band and wreking havoc as usual where ever they might be.

There is a five-minute segment titled “Meet The Mother” where we get a chance to hear what the boys in the band have to say and how they describe their sound, which is interesting as they elaborate a bit on how a “rockin’ beat with a good, fun vibe” merges with a “sexual, psychedelic, sonic tsunami.”

All in all, Wolfmother is a good band and a good time will be had by all who watch this disc and you can bet your ass that next time these young gents are in town Fantasma, El Bicho, and my pal Fumo Verde will be there losing our mind's eye to the rocking good time that is the Wolfmother experience.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Barry Manilow: The First Television Specials

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

The first question I asked myself when approaching Barry Manilow - The First Television Specials was "What artist could pull this off today?" In the pre-MTV days of the first special from 1977, Barry was in his mid-30s with a string of what today would be called Adult Contemporary hits. This wasn't a huge gamble for ABC at the time because of the ratings success of variety shows in the late ‘70s. But like my previous reviews of comedic anthologies (Love American Style), crime anthologies (The Untouchables) and the historical mini-series (Roots: The Next Generation), the musical special is a dead art on today's network television. Is it because of over-exposure of the artists on the web and DVD? Or are we lacking the mainstream artists to pull off a full hour of just musical performances? I believe it's a little of both. Barry Manilow was an experienced, mature artist that could entertain for a full hour, but do the performances still hold up today?

The First Barry Manilow Special aired in 1977 on ABC to a whopping 37 million viewers. The special opens with "It's A Miracle" in front of a live crowd. It's a great high-energy song that was also a known hit. There's a well thought out flow to the performances. We go from the energetic opening to a subdued set piece for "This One's For You" which we find is dedicated to his Grandfather. This is followed by "Jump Shout Boogie" in an American Bandstand-type setting including a dance routine with Penny Marshall. The halfway point is celebrated by his popular live song, "Very Special Medley" that combines his extraordinary run of commercial jingles from KFC to Band-Aid ("I'm stuck on Band-Aid") to Dr. Pepper to McDonald's ("You deserve a break today").

But it's the final set piece that defines what set Barry Manilow apart from other artists of his day. There's a set of three songs - "New York City Rhythm," "Sandra," and "Early Morning Strangers" - that all have a common New York setting. The special uses a simple set that looks like a cheap, local play. That simplicity forces you to listen to the lyrics of the songs. In "Sandra," Barry tells a simple yet powerful story of a stay-at-home mom that wonders about what her life might have been.

But if I hadn't done it as soon as I did
Oh there might have been time to be me
For myself, for myself
There's so many things that she wishes
She don't even know what she's missin'
And that's how she knows that she missed

Those simple words are what make this special so engrossing. Barry doesn't have the best voice, his piano playing isn't amazing, and his personality is corny at best. But he can capture an emotion and tell a story that moves you in a short period of time. By the time Sandra "accidentally" cuts herself on a glass at the end of the song you feel like you know this character in a mere four minutes. It's the same talent that Billy Joel and Elton John have used to make multi-decade careers. The First Special finishes with another high-energy song, "I Write The Songs," performed in front of a live crowd.

The success of the First Special led to The Second Barry Manilow Special in 1978. Here, he's started to improve the formula that worked so well earlier. But you also start to see what will eventually become the downfall of his specials. Barry opens with the up-tempo, "Daybreak." For some reason he feels the need to throw in the corny combination of kids and senior citizens singing the song with him. We are treated to an interesting version of "Copacabana (At The Copa)" in its pre-hit days. Here it isn't a disco hit, it's portrayed with a 1940s theme without any dancing that morphs into a Vegas-style show. The most brilliant move is having Ray Charles take on "One Of These Days" by himself and "It's A Miracle" as a duet. Ray brings an incredible amount of soul to these songs that makes me wish Ray had done a whole album of Manilow covers. The Second Special finishes again with a live crowd and the energetic, sing-a-long songs of "Can't Smile Without You" and "Looks Like We Made It."

The Third Barry Manilow Special from 1979 received the most praise and awards but also marked the beginning of the end for Barry's run of specials on ABC. After a painfully bad sketch playing up Barry's bad driving, we start with the energy of "Ready To Take A Chance Again," a real crowd pleaser. Then we're transported to a more intimate setting for the powerfully evocative "Weekend In New England." The lyrics of that song, "I feel a change comin'" are prescient. The Third Special contains a weird Broadway musical version of "I Write The Songs," John Denver singing his own song "What's On Your Mind" and an entertaining but out of place duet between John and Barry doing "Everly Brothers Medley." The problem for Barry is that between the specials, "Copacabana (At The Copa)" has become a huge disco hit. The performance here is completely different from the earlier performance, the disco elements are really played to the hilt. Luckily, The Third Special is saved by ending with a nice tender moment, "Even Now."

The remaining specials, One Voice (1980) and Barry Manilow: Big Fun On Swing Street (1988) abandon the formula that worked so well between 1977 and 1979. In One Voice, there's the feeling that Barry is just trying too hard to disco-up his songs like "Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed." These specials are more "produced." It's not just Barry and a piano. That's where he works best. There's a moment in One Voice with Barry and Dionne Warwick at a piano playing her hit "Deja Vu" that reminds you why his earlier work was so entertaining. The combination of two father-related songs, "Ships" and "Sunday Father," are beautifully done and emotionally powerful.

By the time Barry reached 1988, he had moved beyond his disco experimentation with two Big Band releases 2:00 A.M. Paradise Cafe and Swing Street. This special has the feel of a loosely connected musical, but the songs don't carry the same emotional impact of Barry at a piano singing "Even Now" or "Sandra." The special is well produced and predicts his later Songbook albums and Vegas shows. His future A&E specials would take their clues more from this special than his earlier ABC work.

I can't imagine anyone short of a Celine Dion or Carrie Underwood carrying a special like this today. But they can't tell a simple story that connects on an emotional level the way Barry Manilow figured out in the late 1970s. This Rhino release is a great find. It's like holding hands again with a longtime love. It's a simple gesture that contains the deepest emotion. Like Barry says, "Maybe the old songs will bring back the old days."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Electric Six: I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being The Master

Written by Puno Estupendo

I Shall Exterminate Everything Around Me That Restricts Me From Being The Master, the latest from Detroit's own Electric Six, keeps the vibe of the band's previous three albums alive and almost sidestepping instead of kicking. Never a band to be taken too seriously, amidst all of the silly lyrics they still manage to throw down some pretty solid rock n' roll.

On the opening track “Showtime,” the spirit of the band is right in your ear under 30 seconds but is more of a setup for the rest of the album. If you're already familiar with their music then you'll know what I'm saying when I tell you that you'll immediately know who it is the minute you hear it. The production is more of the same and the guitars and drums are just like previous efforts. Taking good guitar riffs and mixing it up with drumming and keyboards that aren’t afraid to go all disco or to the ‘80s on you, Dick Valentine's unmistakable tongue-in-cheek lyrics and vocal style will have even a jaded listener probably tapping their foot and possibly hating themselves for doing so.

The songs are silly and it’s too bad Dr. Demento isn’t around anymore to champion these guys. The best are when Valentine starts serious and then makes a switch. In “Randy’s Hot Tonight” he offers sage advice. “Dance like nobody’s watching you, Randy/ And love like you’ve never been hurt,” but later in the song, Randy explains, “If you live in Japan, your’re Japanese./ If you live in Canada, you’re gonna freeze.”

Even though sometimes it sounds like they think they're funnier than they actually are, or that maybe they have a joke going that nobody else seems to be in on, tracks like there are solid enough rockers like “Rip It” to keep you in a good enough frame of mind to kind of laugh when the ridiculousness of the song “Lenny Kravitz” comes on.

This is a very well done (middle of the road) album. Not a whole lot of growth from the band overall, but I Shall Exterminate... still sounds more true to itself than mall punk or MTV's swill, and I think that alone should warrant a listening party. While they don’t have a breakout hit like “Danger! High Voltage” or “Gay Bar,” they seem to be having a good time playing these songs and I have a feeling you can have a good time hearing them.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Johnny Cash: Christmas Special 1976 & 1977

Written Fantasma el Rey

Johnny Cash and his troupe delivered two excellent Christmas specials in 1976 and 1977, during a high point of his career, still very active and touring heavily just a few years after his television show was canceled. Johnny showcased his talent and charisma, smiling and singing with old friends and family bringing into American homes a true spirit of Christmas. And now for the first time in thirty years these holiday gems are available for all to enjoy.

The 1976 special was filmed in Tennessee at Johnny’s home in Bon Aqua and his place in Hendersonville just outside Nashville, giving a country-style “home for the holidays” feel to the show. Johnny opens by singing “Wandering” while he explores some land around his farm after which he cruises over to pick up his guest Tony Orlando and the fun begins. From Johnny, June, and Tony we get to hear Tony’s “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” and are then treated to Johnny on his own, reflecting about “Christmas As I Knew It.” The song tells of his boyhood in Dyess, Arkansas, although the tune was actually written by June and Jan Howard. The tale of youth is a captivating one as always.

To switch it up a bit, Roy Clark joins Johnny and the two country boys sing pop tunes that they heard on the radio while growing up in the south, showing the world that good music is what they loved most no matter what it was labeled. Singing their versions of “Far Away Places,” “Juke Box Saturday Night,” “That Lucky Old Sun,” and that classic “The Christmas Song,” all while Johnny strums a guitar and Roy picks his banjo. To end the first half of the special Tony joins the boys for a tribute to Stephen Foster “a man from the north who wrote such great things about the south.” Foster’s tunes “Camptown Races,” “Old Folks At Home” and Oh! Susanna” are represented well by their wonderful voices.

In the second half of the 1976 special we move to Johnny and June’s large living room for a “guitar pullin’” where everyone gathers around and is given a turn doing what they do best, whether it be singing, playing an instrument, or both. The fine voices of June, Barbara Mandrell, and Johnny’s younger brother Tommy are heard on “Follow Me,” “It’s A Beautiful Morning With You” (Barbara) and “That Christmas Feeling” respectively. Instrumentals are put into the spotlight by Barbara, who treats us to her steel-guitar skills with “Steel Guitar Rag,” and Merle Travis, displaying his guitar mastery on “Cannonball Rag.” The Carter Family, sisters Anita, Helen, and June, along with Jan Howard chime in with their sweet harmonies on “In The Pines.”

To close the first special Johnny brings out Billy Graham who does a recitation of the birth of Jesus but puts a twist to it by using an excerpt from Bret Harte’s The Luck Of Roaring Camp. Well done by Graham who pulls everyone back and speaks of the true meaning and celebration of Christmas being family, friends, and the life of baby Jesus.

A year later, 1977, Johnny and crew were back with different guests and a slightly different special, this time filmed at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House. This year Johnny is joined by some friends that had been there at the start of his career, back when they where young men just staring out in the music world: Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Also appearing this year would be The Statler Brothers and the return of Roy Clark and The Carter Family.

The set opens with Johnny singing “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” and moves right on to Johnny and June performing one of my favorites John Sebastian’s “Darlin’ Companion.” From there Johnny tells the story of his lonely holiday in Germany while in the Air Force and how he came to own and learn to play his first guitar. With help from The Statler Brothers, (all of them, including Johnny are dressed in military fatigues) “This Ole House” and “Blue Christmas” are given a fine vocal group treatment.

The first of three tributes that night are sung by Johnny and Roy Clark, paying their respect in song to the Christmas hits of singing cowboy Mr. Gene Autry. People sometimes forget that Autry launched some of the songs we love so much during the holidays, songs that everyone all over the world enjoys. They are “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Frosty The Snow Man,” and “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer” on which The Statlers and The Carter Family join in.

Tribute two is in honor of the Sun Records label and the man, Sam Phillips, who gave Johnny and three of his guests their break in music by letting them play and sing what they felt in their hearts to be good music, paving the way for the rise of rock’n’roll and rockabilly. Our host kicks it off with one of his first hits and another of my favorites “Big River.” The king of rockabilly steps up next with his self-penned hit “Blue Suede Shoes,” which leads into the soft voice of Roy Orbison singing his signature tune “Pretty Women.” Although that was recorded for Monument Records, Orbison made his first singles on the Sun label. Last and never least is The Killer himself Jerry Lee Lewis rattling the Opry with “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On” then transitioning smoothly into “White Christmas.”

From there Johnny takes center stage to acknowledge two others on the Sun label who enjoyed success, Charlie Rich and Conway Twitty. Johnny also bows his head to the recently fallen King, Elvis Presley, who had passed away just two short months prior to the filming of the special and setting up the last tribute of the night. In honor of Elvis and his love for gospel music the four Sun gods, three of whom where present at the historic Million Dollar Quartet session, perform “This Train Is Bound For Glory.” Fitting not only for Elvis’ gospel upbringing but also for the fact that one of big E’s early Sun singles was the blues cover “Mystery Train.”

To close the show this year, Johnny brings out all the performers to sing together on “Silent Night,” “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” a tune that he had been closing his regular shows with for years. During the singing of “Bethlehem” and “The Herald Angels Sing,” scenes of Johnny, June, and their young son John Carter in the Holy Land are shown. Johnny does some narration here as well and ends the special with goodwill and best wishes to all from the land of Jerusalem.

All in all, the two Johnny Cash Christmas Specials 1976 and 1977 are worth the watch and make good additions to any Cash fan’s collection. As always with Cash you get a feeling that he’s talking straight to you and inviting you into his house to keep warm and celebrate Christmas with his family as if you were a member too. That’s part of what made Johnny Cash the larger than life legend that he is, his heart and willingness to give you the shirt off his back when you needed it. Not to forget his amazing voice and awesome ability to convey a song right to your heart and make you see what he sees and feel as he feels. A talented rebel and county outlaw with a heart and a winning smile. How can you not admire that?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Led Zeppelin: Mothership

Written by Fumo Verde

Here’s a groovy little three-pack for all of us Led Zeppelin fans out there. Mothership has two CDs and a DVD that contain twenty-four audio tracks and twenty live-performance video tracks. It also comes with a sweet liner-note booklet bringing us a quick history of the band and the music they played. Those who love the music of Zeppelin will truly enjoy this, and though I bitch about music we already have being re-issued, this set shuts me up because it is that good.

The CDs sound as if they were compiled by radio DJs playing the band’s top-requested hits from over the years. Disc One covers the first four albums. It starts with “Good Times Bad Times,” a timeless rock song about love and friendship, and ends with “Stairway to Heaven” with its haunting strings and mythical words (forwards and backwards). In between are “Dazed and Confused,” the bass-driven rant of lunatic love, and “Immigrant Song” with its lyrics from the old Viking legends of fighting for Odin and Valhalla. Plants voice echoes the attack horn the Vikings would blow as they raided their neighbors. “When the Levee Breaks,” another blues track, rolls by like an easygoing freight train. With that harmonica blowing time and those worrisome lyrics, one gets the feeling of desperation; now that’s a blues song.

Disc Two drops “The Song Remains the Same” as its lead-in track followed by “Over The Hills and Far Away.” “No Quarter” with its disturbed keyboards played by Jones and infused with bizarre lyrical effects has to be one of those “I think I’m tripping on some really weird acid” songs, or at least that’s the vibe I get when I hear this tune. Down the line is “Houses Of The Holy,” a tough, motivated rock song where bass, drum, and guitar collide to get us up onto the dance floor.

Amongst some of the best Zeppelin songs of all is another winner that needs to be played more often, “Kashmir,” one of my favorites. It has this building climatic symphony, lifting you off of the planet and taking you out past the stars. Plant’s vocals take lead and effortlessly directs the orchestra as the song slings you out into the unknown universe. If you popped either of these music discs into your changer and hit random, you would never be disappointed when the laser eye stopped on either one of these discs.

The DVD pulls twenty tracks from the Led Zeppelin DVD set that came out in 2003 and was a five-hour session. This disc isn’t as long but it does have some of the most memorable tracks played like “We’re Gonna Groove,” a hard rhythm-and-blues jam, and “Going to California” with is soft guitar chords contrasting well against Plant’s sobering voice. “White Summer” where Page gives us one of his amazing guitar solos.

The DVD also includes some deep blues like “I Can’t Quit You Babe” and “Bring It On Home” featuring Plant’s golden tones, and to give Bonzo his time to shine, “Moby Dick” was placed on here as well. Though rumor has it that Bonham played a forty-five minute drum solo on acid, this track only gives us about ten minutes of his incredible percussion talent. Jones thumps his way through many tracks but “Dazed and Confused” seems to be his signature song. All four of these men have a great sense of each other while on stage and it shows at every performance from the colossal stadiums in the U.S. to the show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The magic Zeppelin created electrified their audiences wherever they played.

This would be a great gift for any Zeppelin fan, or any fan of classic rock music. Yes, if you have all their albums and the DVDs, then this pack is redundant, but if you don’t, then this is the set that should satisfy the Led for your head. Zeppelin didn’t dissolve like other bands as the years wear on; they just stopped playing after Bonham died. They didn’t break up because they were all mad at each other or stupid shit like that. The three remaining members felt that the collective soul of the band just wouldn’t be there. Mothership is a testament to their music and to the fans that still love them. Long live the music of Led Zeppelin.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Written by El Puerquito Magnifico

The DVD case for this BBC production boasts rare and previously unseen footage and an intimate glimpse inside the phenomenon that was Beatlemania. Through interviews, personal photographs, and home movies, it would supposedly give the viewer a deeper insight into the band. Turns out that what is advertised and what is actually delivered are two different things.

This mini-documentary, clocking in at a scant 65 minutes, focuses on the early days of the group up until their final show at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park in 1966, and attempts to shed some light on why they quit touring. It doesn’t. At least, no more than any of the other hundreds of thousands of movies, TV shows, and books covering the Fab Four. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad or poorly made film; it simply does not live up to its claims. It’s probably quite interesting, if you’ve either (a) never heard of The Beatles or (b) seen literally every single piece of archival footage concerning The Beatles but are still dying for more. It’s the type of thing you want to show a young kid who’s not familiar with the band, or perhaps a gift you’d like to give to the Beatles completist in your family. Maybe your younger brother Michael, who has heard a few songs and expressed a bit of interest in the band, or Uncle Ernie, who just has to have every single piece of Beatles memorabilia that has ever existed. Otherwise, I’d say don’t waste your time with this one. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been covered before, and more in-depth somewhere else.

The only real note of interest was this: despite the many interviews with roadies and press managers which claimed the contrary, I found these four lads from Liverpool to be anything but humble in the early days of their careers. In fact, the only real insight I gleaned from this little film was that these boys loved their hair, and loved to show it off. I speak, of course, of the “unseen” portion of the flick, which basically consisted of a few minutes of grainy footage of Paul backstage, smiling and running his fingers through his hair; John at poolside, his locks bobbing up and down as he shook his head with wild abandon; and Ringo in a hotel room, his hair flopping about as he manically gyrated his head. Make no mistake, The Beatles knew full well the vast quantities of power which perched atop their domes, and they loved to mug for the camera.

Extras on this disc include extended versions of all of the interviews used in this film, a photo gallery and that same grainy footage of The Beatles hamming it up.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live at Monterey

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Jimi Hendrix, today the name is known far and wide, but back in early 1967 that wasn’t the case at all. The name “Jimi Hendrix” was whispered among the rock underground and barely few had seen or heard him before he left the states for England. It was there that he perfected his craft and image, waiting for a triumphant homecoming. The groundbreaking Monterey Pop Festival would be the vehicle for his return to the shores of the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

The Monterey Pop Festival was a first itself in many ways. For the first time a variety of rock and pop bands would be brought together for a three-day extravaganza. From pop hit-makers like The Mamas and The Papas, folkies Simon and Garfunkel to hard rockers such as The Who and Hendrix himself, all would be in the spotlight of the same showcase. Music was played to the crowd over loudspeakers to keep the vibe going as the stage crew set up the next act, the fact that one could hear the music being played and the bands themselves clearly was a first for many of the performers. Rock acts became used to venues with bad sound equipment as most places still took these bands and their music lightly and looked at them as teenage nonsense.

Many of the bands on the line-up that weekend would hold lasting fame and be considered among rock’s best. Yet Jimi Hendrix would become something more, something eternal and earth moving. He was on the verge of changing rock music and becoming a legend. Jimi followed The Who at Monterey and was well aware of their climactic stage destruction, so he had to pull out all the stops to make his performance stand above all others. And to accomplish this, he knew that a sacrifice must be made.

After shaking the crowd with covers of “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Rock Me Baby,” the blues classic “Killing Floor” and his take on “Hey Joe,” Jimi hit ‘em hard with his self-penned gems, burning the speakers with “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Foxey Lady” and “Purple Haze.” The entire time displaying his guitar mastery, playing on his knees, with his teeth, and behind his back with ease. Jimi made it all look so easy while the Experience set the stage smoking with Mitch Mitchell’s fast and thunder-loud drum kicks and Noel Redding’s groovy bass licks.

Yet Jimi felt that even this was not enough. So in loving tribute to the crowd and the rock gods he offered up the thing he loved most and the one thing that he would forever be identified with, his guitar. As the band ran through the rock anthem “Wild Thing,” Jimi made love to his guitar one last time before gently laying it on the stage and stepping off. He returned with lighter fluid and began to douse his guitar in it. Giving the instrument one last look, he struck a match and lit his beloved on fire, watching it burn for a while from his knees and coaxing the flames to dance higher. Next, Jimi raised her over his head and began to bring her down hard, again and again, smashing her into the stage with the fury of a lover gone wild with desire. A desire to transcend the moment and reach into the future giving himself to the world like a god on high while stunning the crowd and giving birth to his legend.

This performance was all caught on film and is now available combined with the documentary American Landing, which features good interviews with people who knew Jimi and were there that night in Monterey, California. The documentary is about 30 minutes long and bookends the footage of Jimi’s sacrifice at Monterey perfectly. Bonus features include the ability to watch the whole show from multiple angles and giving the option of watching just the live portion, making the DVD all the better. There is also some black and white footage of “Stone Free” and “Like A Rolling Stone” from a London concert.

Combining the documentary with Jimi’s classic performance makes for an extremely entertaining and informative watch, music and history are blended together perfectly. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At Monterey is more than footage of a legend or a damn good DVD, it’s a document of the time and place that music changed and would never be the same. Many would and do imitate Jimi’s style and sound but very few can get away with adding to the guitar style that Jimi Hendrix mastered and will always be known for.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Jah Cure: True Reflections…A New Beginning

Written by Fumo Verde

Spark one up, crank the volume to 12, and kick it while Jah Cure unleashes his fourth album True Reflections…A New Beginning. This may be his fourth record but it’s the first one to be released since Cure himself was released from prison. Soulful and sincere with deep roots of reggae, True Reflections contains powerful messages and viewpoints of a man ready to start over. If this were the ganga, it would have that full body smell and that outdoor fresh taste.

The title track is number one for a reason and should be listened too carefully. Cure lets us all know that he’s changed, and though actions speak louder than words—the lyrics laid out on this very important piece is full of genuineness, “Behind these metal bars to Jah Jah I’m chanting / ‘Pray for your love divine’/ I’m oh so sorry a man, deeply I’m hurting / The price ordained to be mine.” A song sung so emotionally reveals the inner feelings of this man. Just like the acoustic track “I Love You,” the pain in Cure’s voice echoes the feelings of his love with a real honesty.

These aforementioned songs may not sound like your average reggae beats but I assure you that Cure has dropped some fine Natty Dread jams that will get you in “chill out” mode, songs like “Same Way” and “Jamaica” – a tribute to his home country. Still, Cure takes the rasta beat into new and diverse directions with tracks like “Conga Man,” which mixes reggae drumbeats with electronic sounds giving the song a symphonic vibe.

True Reflections…A New Beginning shows the maturity of Cure. Iron bars can change a man, and that change seems evident on this album. Whether he can live up to his own expectations is another thing. This CD has a lot of passion and is worth giving a chance, just like the man who created it. For Jah Cure—this is his new beginning and I wish him the best of luck.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Eddie Vedder: Music for the Motion Picture Into the Wild

Written by El Conquistadorko

When it comes to writing music to accompany a dour film about an overprivileged kid who rejects materialism and wanders the vacant expanses of America only to die, starving and freezing, in the Alaska Wilderness, it's hard to think of a better match than Eddie Vedder. The Pearl Jam front man wrote and performed all the songs but two on the new Into the Wild soundtrack, a pensive mix of electrified ballads and solo acoustic instrumentals with earnest titles like “Setting Forth,” “Far Behind,” “Society,” and “End of the Road.”

If you haven't seen the movie or read the fantastic, similarly-titled Jon Krakauer book, the film concerns the misadventures of Chris McCandless, an east coast child of quarreling rich parents who like his hero Leo Tolstoy (one of McCandless' few possessions was a vintage copy of War and Peace) gives up all his worldly possessions and dedicates his life to a peripatetic search for isolation and harmony with nature. He even changes his name to Supertramp. Having read the book and reviews of the film—although not having seen the movie itself—it appears that Sean Penn has taken McCandless far more seriously than Krakauer (a veteran mountaineer) did.

In trailers for the film, Penn shows Supertramp kayaking alone down the Grand Canyon rapids of the Colorado River, a rip-roaring good time, except it never happened. In fact, McCandless never had a kayak, he had a canoe, and he didn't run the rapids, he put in south of the canyon and tried to paddle from the Colorado River to the Sea of Cortez, which turned out to be impossible and ended, as Krakauer noted, in a pointless disaster that didn't bode well for his future trip to Alaska.

Anyways, the music is solid stuff and if you're a fan of Vedder then it's a good buy. Just don't waste your time reading the pretentious lyrics, which are helpfully included in the CD, along with stills from the movie. If you have half a brain, or if you know anything about the real Chris McCandless, Vedder's attempt to turn a misguided kid's purposeless death in an abandoned school bus 30 miles from the nearest road — probably from eating poisonous berries because he intentionally didn't bring enough food with him — will only piss you off.

Here, in the song “Far Behind,” is a typical example of Vedder's poetic hagiography, which rhymes. “Empty Pockets will/ allow a greater sense of wealth/ Why contain yourself/ Like any other/ Book on the shelf?” But that's subtle wordsmithery compared Jerry Hannan's lyrics of “Society,” by far the most direct and outright silly song on the soundtrack. “It's a mystery to me/ We have a Greed/ With which we have agreed/ And you think you have to/ Want more than you need/ Until you have it all/ You won't be Free.”

Yikes, those lyrics sound like the kind of crap that works if you were a singer for a straight edge punk band 25 years ago and then, only because the music was so angry and you were yelling so loud about society to a bunch of slamdancing morons that nobody could understand you anyway.

By the way, what song could possibly be more appropriate for this movie than Temple of the Dog's 1992 single “Hunger Strike,” which featured Vedder on backing vocals? “I don't mind stealing bread/ From the mouths of decadence/ But I cant feed on the powerless/ When my cups already overfilled/ But it's on the table/ The fire is cooking/ And they're farming babies/ While the slaves are working/ The blood is on the table/ And their mouths are choking/ But I'm growing hungry.”

It's hard to blame Vedder. He had a job to do. The problem is that the best song on the album, “Tuolumne,” is the best song precisely because it has no lyrics, just Vedder plucking away at a guitar, the kind of tune you could imagine a kid like McCandless playing as he camped out in the desert or sat in that abandoned bus in Alaska waiting for death.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dwight Yoakam: Dwight Sings Buck

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Dwight Sings Buck
is more than a tribute album. It’s a salute to country music pioneer and innovator, Buck Owens. Performed by Dwight Yoakam who is the best modern representative and torchbearer of Buck’s signature style known as the Bakersfield sound. What Buck began Dwight has taken and pushed forward, adding his personal touch to the sound making it something all his own. What better way to salute his hero than to record an entire CD of Buck’s popular songs that Dwight likes most.

The Bakersfield sound is an edgy, electrified/twangy guitar-led rockabilly approach to honky-tonk style country. Buck and Merle Haggard are seen as its founding fathers, although Merle has the rockin’ rebel attitude. His brand of the Bakersfield sound leans more towards straightforward honky tonk. Buck, the first star from Bakersfield, brought this edge to country music in the 1960s at a time when the music from Nashville was over-produced and string-laden. From early on Buck’s influence could be heard, especially in the new country sounds being made by a younger generation with names like Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson at the head of the pack.

Skip to the 1980s and another generation at the reins, fusing another element to the sound, giving it new life and sparking the flame a new. With Dwight Yoakam out front the Bakersfield sound would be blended with a punk attitude and even more rockabilly thunder. In the mid ‘50s Buck did record a few rockabilly sides under the alias Corky Jones; yeah, needless to say they went nowhere but do live in the hearts of fans. Dwight took it all up a notch and delivered to the world what I like to call “revved-up hillbilly music,” drawing heavily from his boyhood heroes Buck and Merle. Shaking the scene around with his debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. and eventually teaming with Buck on a remake of “Streets Of Bakersfield.”

Taking another step forward, Dwight has reworked his favorite Buck tunes and puts his stamp on the songs he respects. His band is sharp and brings their own revved-up sound to Buck classics such as “My Heart Skips A Beat,” “Down On The Corner Of Love,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here” and the mega-hit “Act Naturally.” With Dwight the sound is kicked up by a solid and more pronounced rhythm section, drums hit harder and the bass plucks louder. In his hands the sound has a sharper edge and has never been as tough.

“Under Your Spell Again” comes off like a Duane Eddy surf tune with its electric bass over the originals doghouse bass. Losing none of the attitude and only adding to the toughness of the song. Dwight tackles “Excuse Me (I Think I’ve Got A Heartache)” with the same energy and makes the Buck-penned tune a Dwight rocker. He gives the same treatment to “Think Of Me” and “Foolin’ Around,” letting his twang-filled voice and his band loose to spread havoc on the honky-tonk hardwood floor. Dwight also shines on ballads, pleading his love on the songs “Cryin’ Time” and “Together Again,” where the tempo slows and the piano gently rolls along while the steel guitar cries its pain right along side Dwight’s vocals.

No matter what he decides to sing from Buck, or anyone else, Dwight does a fine job and carries the torch with style that remains all his own while pulling from the past, looking toward the future, and expanding the road first trod upon by other country music pathfinders and trailblazers.

Pearl Jam: Immagine In Cornice

Written by Fumo Verde

In 2006 Pearl Jam played five cities in Italy, and Danny Clinch caught it on film. This isn’t just a live concert that was filmed but rather a recorded journal of the band’s tour. More than a backstage pass, you are in the audience, backstage, above stage, on stage, out in line, in the pouring rain waiting to get in. Clinch puts the whole picture in the frame of his cameras and has created something magical. Plus the music is awesome; it’s Pearl Jam.

Over a dozen tracks come to life as Clinch goes from super-8 to HD, bringing much more intensity to an already politically charged band. The music is great as always. “Life Wasted,” “Porch,” and “Better Man” are just a few gems that PJ pulls out. What really blew me away was the band’s capacity to feed off of the energy the crowd exuded and then to give right back to them with twice the amount of force. Whether it’s a guitar solo by McCready, a drum jam by Cameron, or Vedder soulfully waning poetically, one can see the exchange that takes place. On the bonus track “Yellow Ledbetter” the melody alone brings out the tears. The pure emotion of the crowd could be felt as they tried to sing along with Vedder, who re-worded the song and started singing about ending the war in Iraq. When the crowd understood, the cheers poured out. Just seeing this gave me the goose bumps.

The music isn’t the only thing that Clinch got. Like I said, this is better than a backstage pass. Clinch was with the band at all times and this gave him the opportunity to let the fans see what the band is like when they are not being a band. In between each track, we find out a little more what the guys are like when they aren’t under the spotlight. One of my favorite little segments is when McCready is greeted at the hotel entrance by fans. He signs everybody’s autograph book or what have you, takes pictures with fans who want one, all the while he explains he used to be one of these fans. He talks about hiding under the bus of Def Leppard and spooking the drummer. This is a great look into the life of someone who is just a regular guy in a very famous and well-loved band, yet he too has heroes. I also loved Vedder taking us to his favorite place to go after a sound check. “The only difference between a four-track and an eight-track is four more knobs.”

It’s the music, it’s the moments between the music, and it’s the energy that’s traded between the two that makes Immagine in Cornice one of my top picks for the year. Even the packing of this disc is great. It comes with a photo album attached to the box.

Like Cameron Crowe following Led Zeppelin, Clinch has made something more than just a live concert video. He created a portrait of a band by letting the music, the musicians, and the fans paint the picture. He was the master who put it in the frame. And what a fine job he did. Thank you, Pearl Jam, and thank you, Danny Clinch, a fantastic piece of art by such talented artists.