Thursday, February 21, 2008

Barry Manilow: Songs From The Seventies

Written by Hombre Divertido

Barry Manilow has aged gracefully and unlike other stars of that era still manages to hit all the right notes. The production company and marketing staff may have let him down here. This appears to be a project that does not know what it wants to be. The direction is strained, and the show as a whole lacks continuity.

Reading the title on the cover of the DVD package one might think that what we are getting is a special featuring Barry Manilow’s hits from the seventies. That is not exactly the case here. This television special does contain many of Manilow’s hits of that decade, though he fails to realize that his fan base does not want to hear new renditions of the classics.

What we also get is Barry covering other songs of the seventies, though it is not clear how they were chosen. His covers of “My Eyes Adored You,” “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother,” etc. are fine, but not really what the fans want to hear. To have these songs on the special, and some of Barry’s hits relegated to a melody of other seventies songs was disappointing, especially since this production is only seventy-five minutes long, and the second disc is nothing but filler.

When Barry sits down at the piano and plays such hits such as “Mandy,” the audience truly gets what it wants, and had the direction gone towards this simple concept throughout, the project would have been much more enjoyable to watch. Manilow works well while sitting at the keyboard, and seems awkward and uncomfortable when up and moving around. This is most obvious in the closing number of “One Voice.”

At one point we are shown a photo of Barry from that era, and it gleans an excellent response from the studio audience. This of course begs the question as to why a photo retrospective was not used along with footage from that era. Stretching this out to two hours with full renditions of all the songs and a visual retrospective of the era would have been far more appealing than hearing Barry cover other songs.

Not really any extras here. Though the second disk states that it contains “Extra Special Outtakes.” That is quite generous. It feels more like someone decided that they needed a second disk, and threw something on it.

Recommendation: Manilow is still a charismatic singer, and hits some of the songs with great energy. The sound quality is excellent so this is worth buying to listen to, but watching it lessens the enjoyment.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ray Davies: Working Man’s Café

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Ray Davies legendary cofounder of The Kinks is back with his new solo release Working Man’s Café. Sticking with a country/blues rock sound throughout the disc, Ray hits hard as he jumps, skips, and swings into twelve tracks about life and modern day themes. The mastery of his songwriting skill has not diminished with the passing of time. Ray’s tunes are observant and strike a chord in the mind and heart without being whinny or sappy, losing none of their drive.

The rocking opening track “Vietnam Cowboys” sets the lyrical and musical palette of the album. Ray points out the “economic meltdown” and dilemmas hitting the nation and the world with lyrics like “Take the culture right to the third world,” “Mass production in Saigon/ while auto workers laid off in Cleveland,” and “Cowboys in Vietnam/ making their movies.”

“No One Listen” is a tune along the same lines, expressing that no one is around to listen anymore as “everything’s goin’ wild.” All those people who you’re told would listen to the concerns of the “little guy getting kicked around,” from preachers to local government, are nowhere to be found. Ray goes on to note that he’s in the system and that his case will be reviewed in a few years. So now instead of telling the National Guard he might as well tell winos, same difference as government I suppose.

A number of songs are laments for days gone by. “Working Man’s Cafe” is about the disappearance of just that. Long ago the working man, who had a small shop on the corner, selling apples and pears, where you can now get “designer pants,” would be comfortable in the town shopping center and could find easy conversation at the local café and not one that offers the internet. “Imaginary Man” can be seen as a look back at either two people no longer as close as they once were or one person who can’t see himself in a reflection anymore, during those times when you seem so far from who you were or who you thought you are.

“One More Time” takes a look at how things fade and why true love is so hard to find but keeping to the theme of the album, the story goes deeper. It tells of “economic vultures,” corporate tax breaks and profits going somewhere but not to the people, a telling song of the heart and how landscape around us change and become more urban.

“You’re Asking Me” is a cool tune with a light ‘60s psychedelic feel that has Ray sounding off a bit about folks asking him for advice: “No point asking me because I haven’t got a clue,” “Don’t make me responsible for you living your life,” and “I could just as easily go tell a lie, couldn’t I.” Basically he’s telling folks to “get a life” and live it for yourself. On the other hand there is “Peace In Our Time,” which finds Ray spouting unconditional love and peace, “All we deserve is some peace in our time”

Ray Davies’ cool, calculated, unpolished vocals shine on Working Man’s Café. He gets his points across with out sounding weak or false; at times his voice is quite tough, making this CD even more enjoyable. It is definitely a CD that can be played over and over again with its catchy tunes and thoughtful, at times stinging lyrics. Listen to what Ray has to say and you can find some thing to connect to or agree with. That’s his gift to the world, songs that everyday people can understand, from his straight rockers (“Vietnam Cowboys,” “The Voodoo Walk”) to his slower tunes (“Imaginary Man”) and the jazzy, swinger “Morphine Song,” he speaks in a language that you can understand. It’s easy to see how other British heroes of the common man such as Joe Strummer draw influence from Ray’s past masters.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cowboy Junkies: Trinity Revisited

Written by Fumo Verde

In 1988 the Cowboy Junkies released their second album Trinity Sessions and put the band’s name on the charts. The album was recorded in the Church of the Holy Trinity in the city of Toronto, Canada. The basic cost of making this album produced by Peter Moore was around $250, of which five dollars went to the church’s caretaker to let the band stay a little longer while they kept recording. Centered around a single microphone and using a mix of traditional folk songs along with ones written by Michael Timmins, Trinity Sessions became a hit.

So what is Trinity Revisited? It’s a film by Pierre & Francois Lamourex that celebrates the original album’s twentieth year by capturing the acoustics of the old church while adding some new sounds to those haunted songs. Brining the talents of Natalie Merchant, Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt, and longtime friend/part-time Junkie Jeff Bird, who can make the mandolin cry and the harmonica sing, the ensemble revitalizes the music and makes a completely different album from the one made two decades ago. The Lamourex Brothers along with the Junkies gathered together not only musical talent but film, sound, and lighting talent from all over to help shoot this.

My congratulations must go out to Pierre & Francois for the amazing crew that made this incredible film. All of this musical talent in one church blows up as new twists to the old tunes tell those familiar stories through different eyes. For those of you who only bought the first album for the cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane,” the band plays this “tune-up intro” where Michael Timmins and Ryan Adams do a little dueling on guitar as drummer Peter Timmins loosens up by checking all his skins and cymbals. Bassist Alan Anton tickles his Fender until a crescendo of noise peeks, then nothing, a lone voice calls out “2, 3,” then that familiar thumping starts. Ryan’s guitar takes this song into a different orbit as Michael’s strumming keeps the song on the right trajectory. Having Ryan sing a chorus and using Natalie on this track to back Margo gave the song new depth and a whole different feel that even Lou Reed would dig.

Natalie and Margo share choruses on “Misguided Angel” and the harmony these two women have is unbelievable. Margo has that low sultry, soulful tone while Natalie has an uplifting yet sorrowful Irish spirit. Put them together and I don’t have the college degree to find the words to describe the awesome sound these new twists put on such a beautiful song. Add Mr. Bird on the mandolin and you add a bluegrass twang.

Vic Chesnutt sounds like Dylan on a rendition of “So Lonesome I Could Cry” that would make Hank Williams proud. Along with Margo, who I think has the sexiest voice in music, these two contrast well against each other and give the song a stirring vibe.

“Working on a Building” has to be my favorite track out of them all. Everyone contributes; the lighting and camera work capturing the energy going through the church as this gospel traditional explodes as a rocking blues jam.

I am so impressed with the work the Cowboy Junkies and everyone else involved put into this film that I have to say that this will be one of the more memorable things I will get to review in 2008, and the year has just started. The music is great with all its new sounds and it really sets itself apart from the original album.

One of the greatest things about this DVD was the documentary on the making of Trinity Revisited. The band gives us some cool insights on what it was like for them back then and how they have grown since. We also get to see Natalie, Vic, and Ryan in a more intimate setting as they prepare to play songs that have had influence on them.

Trinity Revisited comes with the DVD and a CD so you can keep it jamming on those long road trips from California to Tennessee (it will be coming with me to Bonnaroo). The album encompasses folk, country, blues and bluegrass with a twinge of rock ‘n’ roll keeping the music alive and well. The Cowboy Junkies have always been on my top-ten list and Trinity Revisited will enshrine them there forever.