Friday, November 27, 2009

Norah Jones – The Fall

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Norah Jones has thirteen new songs to offer on her latest release The Fall, which marks a change in direction for her and features a different sound as she works with a new cast of musicians. Norah plays more guitar on her fourth album and less piano, but fear not, her vocals remain as beautiful and sexy smooth as ever. One more change is that Miss Jones’ hair is now short, but again she remains stunning, which goes to show that new looks, sound, and musicians can’t take away from true brilliance.

“Chasing Pirates” opens with synth vamps, mellow bass and guitar, a steady drum snap, other percussion, and the Wurlitzer swirling in the background. The mix of instruments with Norah’s sublime vocals and lyrics has me reeling and lost instantly in the eerie, dreamlike darkness. The lyrics are great and illustrate how one text message can send the mind spinning: “In your message you said/ You were going to bed/ But I’m not done with the night/ So I stayed up and read/ But your words in my head/ Got me mixed up so I turned out the light/And don’t know how to slow it down/ My mind’s racing from chasing pirates.” The lyrics move on and there’s “an ambulance scream,” “impossible schemes,” and drowning insanity, back to mind racing, chasing pirates, a line which is delivered masterfully by Norah. There’s also the slightest Caribbean feel, like Blondie’s “The Tide Is High,” slowed to a crawl and buried in the sand so its barley audible.

“Even Though,” “Light As A Feather,” and “Young Blood” continue down the road of darkness set up by “Chasing Pirates.” The bass lines and drums remain a steady, driving factor and can be related to certain gothic, new wave sounds of the early- to mid-1980s. Norah’s lyrics shine and along with the music remain a bit heavy even as she has some writing help from Jesse Harris (“Even Though”), Ryan Adams (“Light As A Feather”), and Mike Martin (“Young Blood”). “Young Blood” contains great lyrics about gunning down werewolves, “Our fears are only what we tell them to be,” and “Young blood/Young bones/Old ghost,” not in that exact order but strung together well and in a way that makes them work wonders.

“I Wouldn’t Need You,” “Waiting,” “You’ve Ruined Me,” “Stuck,” and “Tell Yer Mama” break things up a bit. They have that country vibe Norah has displayed here and there on her past recordings. “Wouldn’t Need You” finds Norah’s piano work brought to the front and tells of how if she could do certain things on her own and feel a certain way on her own she “wouldn’t need you.”

“Waiting” finds her doing just that, wondering why and will she ever learn and will waiting at all ever get “you” to return. “Stuck” brings in some scratchy, heavy electric guitar and the play of the bass, piano, and string synth remind me, in a slight way, of the chorus to Lou Reed's “Satellite Of Love.” Call me "crazy," but I hear it.

“Tell Yer Mama” finds Jesse Harris and old friend Richard Julian helping with the songcraft on this mid-tempo country romp. The bass thumps out solid plunks as the drums pound an Indian bop hop beat. The clavinet provides an interesting sound twist to this tale of someone who just can’t see that the girl is waiting for him to come around.

“It’s Gonna Be” is the thunder-and-lighting track as its three minutes of heavy, rumble drums; thick bass grooves; mean guitar; and a “tuff” sounding Wurlitzer set the stage for Norah’s assertive vocals. She pushes you back telling how its gonna be: “Aim at the ones who’ve really hurt us/ They should be arrested for murders.”

“Back To Manhattan” and “December” are the jazzy/country tunes that could have been pulled from her previous recordings. “Manhattan” is a quiet piece about going back to something or someone you’d thought you could simply ride away from. “December” scales things back more as this one is only played with acoustic guitar, some light programming and synth, and of course Norah’s piano and sublime vocals.

“Man Of The Hour” is the album closer and finds Norah alone at the piano telling of her “man” of the hour: a dog. After listening to this witty little ditty, it makes you wonder and rethink the focus of some of the others songs' lyrics. Then there is the album cover with her in a furry-looking wedding gown with a top hat and a Saint Bernard at her feet while the CD insert has her in the same dress surrounded by dogs.

Norah Jones’ The Fall is mostly set to a different pace for her. Some fans may be a bit taken back at first, but Norah is the same talent overall and can still make you think and sing along with her poetry and wit set to wonderful music.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Billy Idol - In Super Overdrive Live

Written by Pirata Hermosa

This Blu-ray is from a concert that aired on the TV series Soundstage and was filmed at the Congress Theater in Chicago. Starting off with the song “Super Overdrive” from his most recent album The Devil’s Playground, you immediately can tell something doesn’t sound right. Normally from a live concert you’d hear comments about poor sound quality, but during this performance it’s the exact opposite. The sound is way too good and sounds overly processed. Idol is known for being somewhat of a punk rocker with a bit of gravel to his voice, but right from the beginning the voice and music sound way too smooth. These songs need to sound a little dirty and feel a little bit rawer than the over-polished sound that comes through.

His guitarist, Steve Stevens, plays perfectly throughout, and after watching him play you’d think he was born with a guitar in his hand as he makes it look so effortless. The only thing negative about Stevens’ performance is that he doesn’t get to showcase his musical talents enough.

The show is pretty bare-boned. Billy Idol’s costume changes consist of him taking off one layer of clothing at a time. The lighting is pretty simple, and there isn’t a lot of banter with the crowd. It’s also strangely edited and it feels like large chunks are missing. It’s pretty noticeable when after performing “Eyes Without a Face” he comes back onstage wearing a jacket and shirt again.

Choosing “Kiss Me Deadly” by Generation X as the final song seems like a really odd choice to end the concert on, but if you continue to watch after the song when he is waving to the cheering audience, suddenly his clothes are changed back to what he was wearing during “Ready Steady Go” and it becomes obvious that this wasn’t really the last song he performed but just the order that they decided to put it on the Blu-Ray.

The concert is presented in 1080i High Definition Widescreen 16x9 with a 1.78.1 aspect ratio and is of exceptional quality. Unlike a normal concert, nothing is lost in the dark areas of the stage. You can see the drummer in the back as if he was up in the front, and you can even read some of the dials and settings on the amps and racks in the background.

Audio is in LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS HD Master Audio. This is one of the best concerts I’ve ever heard. The music comes at you from all directions. It has an excellent blend of all five musicians and allows you to be able to hear each one individually while not overpowering anyone else.

There are no special features or commentary on the disc.

The set list includes:

Super Overdrive
Dancing With Myself
Flesh For Fantasy
Touch My Love
White Wedding
Eyes Without a Face
Blue Highway
Ready Steady Go
Rebel Yell
Kiss Me Deadly

Thin Lizzy - Are You Ready?

Written by Pirata Hermosa

Thin Lizzy was a hard rock band formed in Ireland in 1969 and fronted by Phil Lynott, one of the few black lead singers/bass players/songwriters to succeed in that genre. The band recorded several albums before they broke out big in the United States with their album Jailbreak in 1976 that included two of their biggest songs, “Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back In Town”

The lineup changed several times during their career and for this particular concert performance in Loreley, Germany in 1981 and shown on the country’s Rockpalast television show, the lineup included: Lynott, Scott Gorham and Snowy White on guitars, Darren Wharton on keyboards, and drummer Brian Downey.

Unfortunately, like many other Thin Lizzy concert videos the recording quality is poor. It’s too bad, because they are all really good musicians. The dueling lead guitar sound is the trademark of the band and both guitarists play amazing solos in every song. Most of the songs are very bluesy and tend to be longer than average, giving each member of the band an opportunity to display their chops.

While the audio quality suffers, so does the video. One of the cameras gives you rippling lines that run horizontally up and down the picture, reminiscent of the bad signals that would constantly occur before cable television. The stage is also poorly lit and the lighting crew seems to have trouble moving the spotlights around.

You can also see in their performances and style that it’s right before the heavy metal explosion of the ‘80s. There’s a little bit of leather and choreographed movements, not a lot, but just enough to make you wonder what they would have become if Phil had not died in January of 1986 at the age of 36. It’s also interesting to see an audience that is so reserved and so calm.

While this may not be a DVD for someone who has never heard of them before, the sheer number of songs they perform and the lack of other material out in the marketplace make it worth getting your hands on.

There are no special features on the DVD

The set list is as follows:
A re You Ready?
Waiting For An Alibi
Trouble Boys
Don’t Believe A Word
Memory Pain
Got To Give It Up
Cowboy Song
The Boys Are Back In Town
Black Rose
Sugar Blues
Baby Drives Me Crazy

Monday, November 2, 2009

John Denver - Around the World Live

Written by Hombre Divertido

On October 13th Eagle Records released what is being heralded as the definitive John Denver DVD Release. “Definitive” is one way to describe it. “Eclectic” is another, and “excessive” is also an option.

Consisting of four live concerts, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” live in Australia 1977, “Rocky Mountain High” live in Japan 1981, “Country Roads” live in England 1986, and “Solo Acoustic Show” live in Japan 1984 as well his Farm Aid performances from 1985, 1987, and 1990 and two documentaries, Earth Day 1990 and Day at Bighorn (1972), the collection has 592 minutes of material on five discs.

Around the World Live is definitive in that it spans more than ten years of live performances. It is eclectic in that it includes such things as the Earth Day documentary, which may have been one of Mr. Denver's passions, and is briefly hosted by him, but it really has little to do with him, and the material is outdated. It is excessive in its repetitiveness. The collection includes no less than six performances of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and numerous performances of other Denver Classics as well.

Though it is interesting to watch how the technology to film a concert advanced over the years, eventually the footage becomes more enjoyable to listen to, rather than to sit and watch an incredibly talented man stand in front of a microphone and strum his guitar over and over. The concert from Australia in 1977 is awkward from the opening where it fails to properly capture Denver’s introduction, and remains awkwardly filmed throughout. As technology improved over the years, so does the footage of the concerts.

The documentary Day at the Bighorn lends the most insight into Denver, his personality, and his passion for animals and the great outdoors, but it is clumsily edited, and generally results in poor storytelling.

The gem in this release is the acoustic performance in Japan from 1984, as it truly displays the immense talent and vocal range of Denver.

The sound quality of all segments is excellent, and most of the footage looks great if you are so inclined to watch all of it.

Recommendation: Around the World Live seems thrown together, as the Earth Day documentary seems out of place. A documentary on John Denver’s life would have made for the perfect conclusion to the story attempted to be told here. Even the addition of the made-for-television movie Take Me Home: The John Denver Story from 2000 with Chad Lowe as Denver, would have made for a more well-rounded release. The true fan may enjoy sitting and watching all of this, but most will simply enjoy listening to some of it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Lost At Sea

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Squirrel Nut Zippers return with Lost At Sea, their first release since 2002’s best-of collection. Recorded live in Brooklyn, NY, on December 5th 2008, this is the Zippers’ first live album and contains seventeen tracks that span their clever career.

Going back to 1994, the Zippers have had a sound that is hard to classify, which is a good thing. Bringing together all the elements of 1930s music at its best (jazz, swing, jug band, country, and jump blues), the band blends them together well and creates a signature sound, living hot jazz with Harlem Renaissance-influence. With sizzling guitar, rolling thunder drums, at times aggressive vocals, and a dark sense of humor, the band truly cuts their own notch and stands above some others that got caught in the swing revival of the mid 1990s.

Lost At Sea finds key members of the Zippers, Jimbo Mathus (vocals, guitar, trombone) and Katharine Whalen (vocals, banjo) back in full force. They had put the band aside for a while to pursue solo work and new paths in life. The once-married founding members are now back to cooking and set to burn down more concert halls.

The album is a best-of collection with a live vibe, playing the hits while reaching back through all their albums. From ‘95s The Inevitable we get the rollicking fun of “Good Enough For Grandad” and the seductive “Danny Diamond.”

The majority of the 17 tunes hail from the band’s breakout album Hot. The seven slices of squirrel nuttiness include the big horns and rockin’ late night juke guitar of “Memphis Exorcism,” the hip-shaking “Prince Nez,” the toe-tapping ditty “Bad Businessman” and the sensual Whalen-sung numbers “It Ain’t You” and “Blue Angel.” Of course Lost At Sea wouldn’t be complete with out the punchy “Put A Lid On It” or the demon-driven hit song “Hell.”

Hot’s follow-up, Perennial Favorites, brings the jumpy, social satyr, jazz fun of “Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter” and “Suits Are Picking Up The Bill” along with the gypsy-flavored “My Drag.” The standout “Ghost Of Stephen Foster” is an eerie, fast-paced race with a ghostly chorus, spooky clarinet, crashing cymbals, and frenzied horns.

Rounding out Lost At Sea are two tracks from Bedlam Ballroom, the funky, soulful, Texas-guitar romp “Do What” and the Mardi Gras party “Missing Link Parade,” although we are only given an exciting sample on the latter.

Going all the way back to their earliest days, they bring us the quiet “You Are My Radio” with just a guitar and male/female duet. An amusing gem is the country-tinged “Happens All The Time,” which I can’t find on any of the band’s recordings and may be a hint of their rumored forthcoming studio album.

Flooded with the fun and frolic that made them the “hottest band in the hall,” the band is back in top form, ready to re-launch with hard-charging guitars, drums, horns, Mathus’ strong voice and Whalen’s Billie Holiday-inspired vocals. You’ll dance, you’ll sing, you’ll love being Lost At Sea with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Definitive Vince Guaraldi

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Way back before he met the Peanuts gang pianist Vince Guaraldi was playing fine jazz either as a sideman or leading a trio. Cutting, digging, and jiving his way through the San Francisco scene, turning out platters on the Fantasy label for years. Here now is The Definitive two-disc collection of his finest works from those early days to his ‘60s hits, and of course, the tunes brought him to the masses.

Guaraldi began in the early 1950s as a sideman for vibraphonist Cal Tjader and then for clarinetist Woody Herman before forming his own trio around ’55. With years of side work under his cap and backed by hard-working kats who’d been gigging around like himself, he began his run at jazz stardom. From these years come jams like “Calling Dr. Funk,” which includes some good alto sax by Jerry Dodgion, and the flying “Fascinating Rhythm.” The latter is a fast-paced romp that has the ivories smokin’ while the guitar (Eddie Duran) and bass (Dean Reilly) are on fire as the trio race to the finish; listen to the last piano run, you can hear a bit of the future.

The trio can slow it down to a sleepy stroll with tunes like “Never Never Land” and “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing.” The boys can also swing a bit with the cool “Fenwyck’s Farfel” and the hep grooves laid down on “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise.”

“Samba De Orfeu” begins a new phase in Vince’s career as he picks up a Latin beat and incorporates samba and bossa nova rhythms into the mix (“Mr. Lucky,” “Corovada,” and “Work Song”). Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete plays on a few tunes that include “Star Song,” “The Days Of Wine And Roses,” “Ginza Samba,” and “The Girl From Ipanema”

Guaraldi scored his biggest hit with 1962’s “Cast Your Fate To The Wind,” the song producer Lee Mendelson heard and kept in mind as he worked with cartoonist Charles Schultz while bringing Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip to television. The connection becomes clear after one listen to songs like “Cast Your Fate” and “El Matador” that this will be the music of the Peanuts gang and become Guaraldi’s signature sound: cheerful piano; plucky bass; and steady, easy-going brush drumming with a slight Latin kick. Overall mellow and cool, yet very playful. Mendelson made the call to Guaraldi and the rest is history.

With all the pieces in place, Guaraldi, a Peanuts fan in his own right, put it all together and gave us the classics we know and love today: the bouncy “Linus And Lucy” and “Skating;” the mellow “Oh, Good Grief;” and the quirky “Charlie Brown Theme.” Let’s not forget the holiday titles that go hand in hand with those original specials, “Thanksgiving Theme,” “Christmas Is Coming,” “Christmas Is Here,” and “The Great Pumpkin Waltz.” The holidays wouldn’t be complete without seeing these specials or hearing these songs somewhere as you shop for gifts or pick up that last-minute can of yams.

So go grab The Definitive Vince Guaraldi because without him and his cheerful piano playing we wouldn’t have those jazzy memories of holidays gone by. And if not for his years of knocking around San Francisco soaking up the sounds, it wouldn’t have all come together and given him the fame he knew he would achieve. It’s too bad a heart attack claimed Guaraldi at 47 before he knew the lasting effect his music would have on the world.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rosanne Cash - The List

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Rosanne Cash, daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash and a great songwriter herself, is back with her twelfth studio album. It is a treasure of twelve of country music’s most essential recordings given Rosanne’s special touch with her wonderful vocals. The idea for the album came to her while touring for her last album, 2006’s Black Cadillac. Rosanne remembered a key lesson her father taught her about her country roots and thus through Johnny’s wisdom shines The List.

Black Cadillac was Rosanne’s way of expressing the loss she felt over her father, mother Vivian, and stepmother June Carter Cash in the album’s reflective tunes. In concert she told the audience about a time when she was 18 and her father realized her knowledge of country standards was limited. A few hours later Johnny came back with a list of what he titled “100 Essential Country Songs.” Rosanne recalls the list covering a wide range of songs in the country spectrum (including some of his own) from early folk and blues to the more modern sounds of Hank Williams Sr. and rockabilly, right up to what at the time, 1973, was current. She learned them all and came to embrace those songs as a “standard of excellence.” It was a reminder of who she was and where she came from.

In past covers Rosanne has done, including the Beatles’ “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party,” she has always managed to make them her own and nothing has changed here. I have always been swept up in her beauty and her voice; she is the female voice of country I remember most from my youth. Her version of Johnny’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box” would have me smiling and singing along, and my mother would always call me to the television whenever the video came on. Rosanne was probably my first crush. I thought she was the prettiest girl (I loved her black hair and style of dress) with the most beautiful voice; I was smitten, and still am.

From the start, Rosanne’s voice takes center stage with the slow, country waltz of Jimmie Rogers’ classic “Miss The Mississippi And You.” Something in her smooth delivery, timing, and overall soothing voice captures me in a trance, as if I were a child again lost in her voice, and the story she tells is of simply missing someone and someplace. A sad story I can understand.

“Motherless Children” picks up the pace, and we get snapping, solid drum beats by Shawn Pelton, great string picking by John Leventhal (producer and Rosanne’s husband) on guitar, bass, and mandolin while Larry Campbell strokes the fiddle. Rosanne puts more in her vocals here too, digging deeper, getting more soulful and powerful as the band stays steady behind her.

“Sea Of Heartbreak,” which her father covered on his acclaimed Unchained album on American records, finds the first of Rosanne’s friends turning up to help her out. We get The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, providing his ragged vocals that actually fit well with Rosanne’s, making this well-done little remake a classic itself. I love the fact that she went slow with the tune as opposed to Johnny’s jumpy, high-energy version. Perfect.

Other guests include Elvis Costello on the Harlan Howard tune “Heartaches By The Number,” Rufus Wainwright on Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on “Long Black Veil,” another tune done by Johnny at one time. These sad songs of loss never lack feeling and are done well as the men trade vocals and harmonize with Rosanne wonderfully.

Two songs I looked forward to most were the Hank Cochran/Patsy Cline song “She’s Got You” and a song her father and Bob Dylan did together, one of my all-time favorites “Girl From The North Country.” Rosanne carries both well and makes them new by putting her loving touch on them. On “Girl From The North Country” as well as “Long Black Veil” she doesn’t change the lyrics to reflect a women’s point of view. A bit odd, but she pulls it off as you can picture her singing these songs to herself somewhere like any other women who loves these songs would have done.

Rounding out the album are “500 Miles,” “Take These Chains From My Heart” (Hank Williams), “I’m Moving On” (Hank Snow) and “Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow” (The Carter Family). Rosanne works her magic on all wonderfully, leaving her heart and soul on the recordings she has adored since her youth.

The List is an album her fans will love and have waited for while fans of real country music can appreciate it for the love and care that Rosanne Cash has put into reworking these fine country staples, blending perfectly the traditional with the modern through her band and beautiful voice.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Avett Brothers - I And Love And You

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Country, folk, bluegrass, a hint of punk describes The Avett Brothers pretty well; American roots music is a better overall description for the music put forth by the two multi-talented brothers from North Carolina. I And Love And You is their sixth full-length album since their debut in 2001 and their first major label release. Put out by American/Columbia and produced by big fan Rick Rubin (his favorite new band says Rolling Stone), the new CD is a collection of 13 songs about life, love, and dealing with it all as you transition “from youth to adulthood” and starts “hoping to build something.” The Avett Brothers, Scott and Seth, speak volumes in their lyrics while keeping their music simple and enjoyable.

From the start, I And Love And You grabs hold and brings you into the world of the brothers (who play most of the instruments) filled with piano, vocals from the heart (which they switch off on), basic drums kits, cello (Joe Kwon), stand-up bass (Bob Crawford), percussion, and some banjo for more kick. Most heavy-hitting are the lyrics, kept simple yet arranged in a way that gives them snap and sting with the reality of life. The Avett Brothers paint pictures with words, using both gentle and fierce strokes and flushing them out with music arrangements that range from whisper to shout.

For the first time the brothers let the chore of song order go to someone else. Rubin chose them well as they move flawlessly from track to track. He understands the brothers and arranges their songs to further paint and expand the pictures of love and life they present.

The title tune deals with the difficulty of uttering those three words. It begins with the easy arrangement of them, then the breaking them up gives them different meaning .Add in lyrics like “what you were then I am today” and “the highway sets the travels stage/ all exits look the same” and the story of a road trip to Brooklyn unravels to tell the tale of how those words became so difficult to say.

On “January Wedding” the music perks up a bit and we get more country/bluegrass picking of guitars, banjo, and stand-up bass reminiscent of The Stanley Bros. The song pretty much conveys, what is in away, the height of those three words, expressed with lyrics that hit the heart: “She keeps it simple/ and I’m thankful for her kind of loving” and “she’s talking to me with her/ voice down so low I barely hear her/ but I know what she’s saying/ I understand because my heart and hers are the same.” The lyrics continue to describe the right reasons why people should get married. As the song goes on we hear how the couple is surrounded by darkness. The narrator doesn’t feel weak but sometime needs her “to protect me/ and reconnect me/ to the beauty/ that I’m missing.” Call me insane but is that not what a mate and partner-in-crime should do for you? Pick you up when you’re down, and provide the true feeling that everything will be all right and the sun will shine again?

“Head Full Of Doubt Road Full Of Promise” explores that feeling of transition, moving forward head full of doubts but looking to shake all that clear, build on it and move on. While “And It Spread” is a heavy little ditty about how love or the cold lack thereof can spread into the heart and affect your mind.

“The Perfect Space” with its heavy piano deals with finding that space in life where one can fit and feel comfortable with friends. The ones you can trust and who understand and love you for who you’ve become and not who you were. The tune has a wonderful tempo change in the middle that kicks things into high gear and shows that these boys can really rock, shout, and cut lose when they want to before returning to the slow and steady.

“Kick Drum Heart” furthers this up-tempo rocking, shouting side of the brothers. Drenched and dripping with ‘80s pop flair, with happy piano, kick-drum skipping playfully, and joyful lyrics of walking in the woods. This time the tempo change in the middle is reversed for a bit before bounding back and ending with the steady heart beat of the kick drum.

“Tin Man” is a fast-paced tune with a Beatlesque tuba about missing the feeling of feeling. “You can’t be like me/ but be happy that you can’t” and “I see pain but I don’t feel it” reflects the times when you’re so down, out, and left behind that all seems to go numb even when the person you love best is right next to you. “And so it goes/ a man grows cold/ some would say a man grows strong” along with “and if you won’t give my heart back/ I’ve no need to stick around” perfectly sums up the mood and sets the stage to end the album with three more solid songs.

“Slight Figure Of Speech” is the most rocking number on the album and has the band in a playful mood that shines in the rapid-fire, lyrical roller-coaster delivery in the middle of the tune. “It Goes On And On” continues the bouncy, playful pace and short, quick vocal punch. Closing with “Incomplete And Insecure,” which slows a bit and brings the album full circle, the perfect bookend to “I And Love And You.” The song leaves the album feeling like its title, not to say the album is incomplete, just the journey we were taken on through the eyes of the Avett Bros’ I And Love And You is an incomplete journey. Our narrator’s journey through life is incomplete like all ours lives if you don’t live and love and feel life in all its joy, pain, and glory.

I And Love And You is a solid effort and a good look at love through the eyes of two young men making the transition into their thirties, looking to build a future from the tools they acquired in their twenties. Incomplete and insecure can describe how many feel towards those three little words, but those three little words when whispered from the heart can contain the world in them. The Avett Brothers get that (the mission statement on the CD is further proof that they do) and through their music it can help us explore ourselves and the impact of “I And Love And You.”

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Willie Nelson Special with Special Guest Ray Charles

Written by Fantasma el Rey

The Willie Nelson Special
is an hour of Willie at the top of his game in 1985, singing the songs that made him famous and loved by fans around the world. His stage show has no frills or popping pyrotechnics. It’s just 60 minutes of Willie in an intimate setting, making him seem even more down to earth as he presents classic country as it should be, stripped down, focusing on the music and its performers.

The show opens with the rollin’ jump of “On The Road Again” played for a minute over the opening titles and some scenes of Willie and the boys goofing around, playing golf, and shooting pool. Willie and his band are in a quiet, sit-down bar or a very small club and on a low-rise stage putting them right next to their fans. The venue is small and perfect for this type of show, providing good interaction between fan and artist. These are the kind of places I like best; they make it seem as though the show is just for you and the band is approachable, which most times they are. This makes the next selection perfect as Willie slows the show with the beautiful “Always On My Mind” and shows off his quiet Texas crooner vocals on a tune I’ve always loved.

From there the legendary Ray Charles steps up to the piano and shares the spotlight with his friend Willie. Ray opens with a little jam they’ve titled “Ray’s Improvisation,” a good little piece of jazz, and slides right into the slow duets of “Angel Eyes,” “Seven Spanish Angels,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and a tune that hit big for Ray, “Georgia On My Mind.” Closing the duets with Ray, Willie picks up his guitar and the two begin to cut lose on a swingin’ version of the country/bluegrass staple “Mountain Dew.” Willie’s band picks up the pace as Ray lets his fingers fly on the ivories as the two stars reel and rock their way through; both having fun with it.

The Willie and Ray segment is highlighted by a couple of flashes back to rehearsals the night before where it’s just the band, Willie, and Ray working on songs they plan to do. Its fun to see them laughing, having a good time, and really connecting with each other. Willie’s intro of Ray to the stage on show night is awesome as Willie makes a blind joke that really has Ray laughing and showing his wonderful sense of humor. A great segment and one that I’m glad was caught.

Willie then brings up guitarist Jackie King to help him out on the western swing ditty “My Window Faces The South,” which also features fiddle great Johnny Gimble in the background doing what he does best and making the cowboy jazz tune truly pop. The two then slow down a bit and move to the more solid jazz of “There Will Never Be Another You.”

After the two songs with King, Willie takes the spotlight again and croons three nice, slow tunes with “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before,” “Without A Song,” and “Who’ll Buy My Memories.” The highlight here is one of my favorites: “To All The Girls,” a big hit for Willie and his duet partner Julio Iglesias. Willie even opens the second verse with a playful poke at Julio’s accent, jokingly claiming it was all him on the record. Another look at the playful side of the redheaded stranger.

Closing the show is another of Willie’s up-tempo numbers, fan-favorite “Whiskey River.” Willie and his band close strong with this one and provide a perfect bookend to the night, reminding us that even though they can groove slow they love to rock. As the song plays, we get a three-minute tour of Willie’s hometown, Abbott, Texas. It’s an interesting little look at some of the places, people, and friends who remember the young Willie, his adventures, and his deeds as well as his family.

“The Willie Nelson Special” is a solid hour of Willie doing what he loves and is best at: singing his heart out on slow numbers and raucous country stompers. It’s a good sample of what a Willie show is like in a close and cozy setting, one on one with his fans who will no doubt appreciate this DVD the most. The casual fan will have a good time too as there are some of Willie’s major hits on hand and presented with feeling and warmth that only some one with a great passion for what they do can bring. Bottom line: Shotgun Willie at his best!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers On The Albums That Changed Their Lives Edited by by Peter Terzian

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Heavy Rotation
is a book that takes a look at twenty current writers and the albums that “changed their lives” as the subtitle implies. It also explores the reasons and times surrounding that particular album. The twenty authors are mostly the same age ranging from late thirties to mid forties, one or two may be a bit older or younger, but the majority lay there. They also cruise the vast musical spectrum covering Broadway musicals to ‘80s alternative and corny pop. The book is a good look at the connection between writers and their love for music and is the brainchild of editor/contributor Peter Terzian. An excellent and easy read that’s hard to put down as one can relate to the feelings and emotions that music brings even if unfamiliar with some of the albums listed.

Not all the albums written about are monster bestsellers or by bands or artists one would think would fill the pages of such a book. Shelia Heti recounts her fascination with the Annie soundtrack and how it led to an appearance on a local kid’s show hosted by some kooky clown and the odd disappointment she felt when she met her childhood idol years later. Alice Elliott Dark goes over how a Beatle became the father figure she tragically lost and had to deal with as a young girl as she glances back on Meet The Beatles. We also get a look how some bands can make you feel as if you know them and they could have been boys from down the street as Martha Southgate revisits her adoration for a quiet member of the Jackson 5 and their Greatest Hits album.

Heavy Rotation’s contributors also share how certain albums represent a small place in time. From a six-month stint in college where the B-52s’ self-titled debut ruled the turntable and seemed like it did for a longer time as Clifford Chase became engulfed by the band and began to understand himself a bit more through them. Or how Joni Mitchell’s Blue was played constantly at the annoyance of family members for three weeks before young Colm Toibin had to head off to boarding school where records weren’t allowed. Then there is Asali Solomon’s nearly complete dislike of Gloria Estefan before spending a semester in the hostile (to her) Dominican Republic and coming to find comfort in Estefan’s solo album Mi Tierra.

The writers also tell tales of how they became obsessed with smaller, lesser-known bands and compilations. Terzian finds complete fascination in a British band, Miaow, who only released a few singles and disappeared. Although years later he did manage to hunt down the band and thus begin his writing career while discovering the unreleased Priceless Innuendo.

Inside the 300 pages of Heavy Rotation we read the stories of how an album came to be owned, in what format (tape, vinyl, CD), and was just one format good enough. The pages pop with clearly painted pictures of where folks were in life, both mentally and physically. Kate Christensen has Rickie Lee Jones’ Flying Cowboys to accompany her on New York City streets. There are reflections of how a certain off-the-wall show soundtrack can represent freedom in all its odd glory as a housewife Claire Dederer finds in the original cast recording of Hedwig and The Angry Inch.

Many tales are spun in different styles throughout Heavy Rotation to take us back to how and why a particular album can represent places and times in life. Some albums help people cope with whatever they were dealing with, be it a tragic loss or the struggle to be one’s self, including confronting sexuality. Others show how records and bands can set us on a new path with their wisdom as we connect with the lyrics and make them are own, bending them to see they tell the stories of our own lives. Most of us can say the same about music in our lives and tell our own stories about it and through it. This connection is what makes Heavy Rotation a book that is very enjoyable to read as well as the fact its contributors do a great job in sharing their world of music in the way they know best, through the rhythm and music of writing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ted Nugent - Motor City Mayhem (Blu-ray)

Written by Pirata Hermoso

On July 4th, 2008 the Motor City Madman performed his 6,000th show in front of his hometown fans. On June 30th, 2009 the CD, DVD, and Blu-ray discs of the concert went on sale nationwide.

I can remember the first time I heard a Ted Nugent album. It was Double Live Gonzo! and we were listening because it contained a song titled “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.” What teenage boy could turn down a song with that title? The crazy song title may be what first grabbed my attention, but songs like “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold” are what kept me listening.

As an artist, Ted Nugent is best known for his sophomoric lyrics, fast rap, and loudmouth personality that forged his nickname, “Motor City Madman.” Unfortunately, he upstages his own amazing guitar skills and deserves more props for his musicianship than he normally receives.

But now Ted is 60 years old and in this concert his mouth isn’t as quick as it used to be. Of course, there is the usual Nugent banter, but it’s toned down. It may be because it’s the 4th of July and his attention is on the holiday and the celebration of the moment, but he is constantly yelling “Freedom!” and commenting on the greatness of America and its men and women in the armed services.

The beginning of the concert starts with a number of troops from the Selfridge Air National Guard standing on stage while a giant red, white, and blue cake is wheeled out to the center of the stage. It’s a bit awkward and choppy at first, but suddenly Nugent comes out from the side of the stage and begins playing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his guitar.

This is probably my favorite part of the entire show, not because Ted does an awesome version of our national anthem (which he does), but because Cristy Lee, the WRIF-FM Rock Girl, pops up out of the cake and wiggles around in a Stars & Stripes decorated bikini. At that moment I felt so...inspired and filled...with patriotism that I had to watch this portion of the concert several times before I continued, and even one time once it was all over.

The rest of the concert is strictly a musical affair. There are no pyrotechnics, dancers, or video clips distracting you from the music. The stage is sparse with only a giant banner of Ted dressed as Uncle Sam as a backdrop. The band is tight and contains only two other members, drummer Mick Brown, and bassist Greg Smith. The three play all of Ted’s most famous songs, and Smith does lead vocals on “Need You Bad,” while Nugent trades in his sunburst Gibson for one painted with an American flag.

Halfway through the concert, the guest performers begin to show up. Ted’s first guitar instructor from 50 years ago, Joe Podorsek, is introduced and plays some great rhythm and blues on the song “Honky Tonk.” A few songs later, legendary drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, from Mitch Ryder performs on “Jenny Take a Ride.” And finally, Derek St. Holmes, Ted Nugent’s original singer, arrives for “Hey Baby,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” and “Stranglehold.”

Overall, if you’re already a Ted Nugent fan, this concert is a nice addition to your collection. He has never been better on the guitar and it’s obvious he’s been playing for over 40 years as it looks completely effortless. His vocals are a little rougher than in his youth and he does a lot more screaming than singing, but he’s having a good time and it fits in with the concert experience.

Visually, I would have liked a little more of the glitz. I like the lasers and lights, some smoke, or at least some more Cristy Lee scattered throughout. The show is over two hours long and it’s difficult to keep people’s attention for that amount of time without something else to break it up.

There are no Special Features or any added extras on the Blu-ray disc.

Track Listings:
Ted Nugent Intro
Star Spangled Banner
Motor City Madhouse
Wango Tango
Free For All
Dog Eat Dog
Need You Bad
Weekend Warrior
Love Grenade
Honky Tonk (with Joe Podorsek)
Wang Dang Sweet Poontang
Bo Diddley/Lay With Me
Baby Please Don’t Go
Geronimo and Me
Jenny Take a Ride (with Johnny “Bee’ Badanjek)
Soul Man
Hey Baby (with Derek St. Holmes)
Cat Scratch Fever (with Derek St. Holmes)
Stranglehold (with Derek St. Holmes)
Great White Buffalo
Fred Bear

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gestapo Khazi – Gestapo Khazi (EP)

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Rising from the streets of Long Beach, California, to wreak havoc on a scene filled with stale, over-the-top, wanna-be art types comes Gestapo Khazi. After working for a while and building a loyal fanbase, they have released their first self-titled EP. Those that don’t know the power of Gestapo Khazi soon will as the six-track EP serves as one hell of a sample of what this driving band can do.

Their classic four-man line-up consists of Stark Raving Erik up front on highs (guitar), Third Reich Mike beating the cans (drums), Gestapo Grazi working the lows (bass) and Holy Roller in the middle of it all spitting words at the masses like a madman. It all comes together in a force that rips roofs off of houses and shakes the crowds into frenzy. Drawing influence from solid rockabilly, surf instrumentals, punk, and post punk, they truly make a sound and fury all their own. Live or on disc, if these kats don’t move you, then check your pulse cause you’re probably dead, or should be.

In the opening 30 seconds of “Smoke Signals” they have you, displaying a bit of who they are right there. The bass drops the message so listen up because the guitar is hot on its heels, weaving in with a bit of surf instrumental on steroids. Following fast and hard are the pounding, machine-gun attack of the drums with Roller quickly pouncing to the front with his deep, forceful vocals, delivered loud and at times in a growling scream. The band pushes you back but dares you forward to get in the mix and withstand the barrage of good, solid rock ‘n’ roll imposing its will upon you. They dare you not only to stick around for the two minutes of the opening track but to see if you can handle the fist-pumping, mosh-pit-inducing rock that will bombard your ears for the EP’s 13-minute run and infect your mind for a lifetime.

“Miss Temptation” and “Time Eats Time” pound out more of the same as the band members play off each other well, further displaying their skills with cutting guitar solos; thick, up-front bass runs; hammering, rumble drums; and powerful vocals.

“Samuel Hall” screams with tuff surf/ drag strip ‘60s instrumentals kicked up to punk levels while “Ain’t Worth A Dollar” reflects the Cure’s darkest period with its bass and drum work, yet mixes in more of that midnight drag race guitar.

Closing the EP is “Come One Come All,” a fine blending of New Model Army meets The Cramps. The lyrics to this tune sum up the way Gestapo Khazi leaves you feeling well: “Beaten, Bleeding…Sometimes walking/Sometimes crawling…Come one come all.” It’s like an invitation to one of their kick-ass shows and the EP will kick you and beat you, but you’ll kick and fight back by moving to the beat and keeping the pit swirling. Gestapo Khazi makes it all worth it and won’t let you down as you spin the disc over and over again.

Gestapo Khazi is a small masterpiece that leaves you wanting more, more to listen to, more of their shows to make it to, more good solid r ‘n’ r which seems to be missing from the street scene in general. So check them out on Myspace to see where these vandals will turn up next and how to get a copy of the EP. Word on the street is that “the best looking band around with massive bulge action” will be putting down some seven-inch vinyl soon.

Keep an eye out for that and this fun lovin’ pack of lunatics and their just as odd and crazy crew which consists of punks, bolo-wearing Dogs D’Amour rockers, and wave after wave of hot chicks on the streets and pubs of L.B. And you just might catch Fantasma in the crowd as well, the lone greasy, rockabilly.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Women Rock Show, Whiskey A Go-Go, 5/16/09

Written by Pirata Hermoso

I have to admit, that I wasn’t too excited when one of my best friends said he wanted to go see Tiffany in concert. Yes, the Tiffany from the ‘80s who was more famous for doing cover songs, “I Saw Him Standing There” and “I Think We’re Alone Now,” than she was for any kind of original music that I could remember. But I figured, what the hell, why not? I had never been to the Whiskey A Go-Go in Hollywood before, and this was a good friend who had been to many shows with me that he probably didn’t really want see. And it didn’t hurt that the tickets were only $18. That’s pretty cheap even for an ’80s pop star. But what we didn’t know until the night before is that we would actually get to see seven other artists performing that same night. And that’s an even better long as they didn’t suck.

The tickets said that the show started at 8:00, so we showed up a few hours early. I don’t really like showing up that early, but I’ve been burned enough times going up into L.A. for a show and ending up late to an event because of the nightmarish gridlock that the city is famous for. I also hate looking for parking. We rolled up to the Whiskey at around 5:30. It’s in a pretty rundown-looking area, but across the street is The Viper Room, and you can see the Hustler store down the street. Now if that doesn’t say class, I don’t know what does.

I turned my car up the street just before the club and actually found the little parking lot for the Whiskey. Of course, there’s nobody parked there and there’s a large scruffy man in his late 50s wearing an old leather vest just standing in the center of the lot talking on his cell phone. There’s a younger guy nearby sitting on a crate, but he wasn’t really paying attention to us. The older guy, while still talking on the phone, walked up to us and said, “It’s $10 to park.” So I give the man the money and started to roll up the window when he said, “You have to let me park the car, and then I give you back your keys.”

For a split-second I froze as my mind began to race. Why in the hell did he need to park my car? We’re the only people in the lot, and it’s not that big. I glanced at my friend, and through my teeth muttered, “What the hell. Do we even know if this guy is a valet or is he just waiting for some dumbass to drive up and hand him keys to a car?” My friend shrugged, and slowly I got out of the car.

I intensely watched the man as he got into my car and started to move it. I was ready to chase after him, rip the door off the hinges and throw him out of my car if he gave even the slightest hint he might be trying to steal it. Okay, I’m not really sure how I would have stopped him, or why he would even steal my car, it’s not expensive, but dammit, it’s my F-ing car! So when he slowly moved the car about 10 feet away and got out, I was quite relieved. I still wasn’t sure why I couldn’t park it myself, but it didn’t matter as the ordeal was over.

At 7:00, after an hour or so of wandering around and walking over to Peet’s Coffee & Tea for a drink, where some strange guy sitting by the restrooms warned me of the mysterious smells in there, we headed over to the front door of the Whiskey. A small line had formed…well, not really. It was actually just some of the friends and family of the night’s first performer waiting to get in the club.

When we finally got in, I got to look around the infamous Whiskey where legendary performers like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses had performed. I was a bit disappointed. I was expecting something better, more grandiose. I’ve been inside several McDonald’s that could hold more people than the Whiskey.

Amber-LakeOpening the show was host, Amber Lake. I didn’t recognize her at first, probably because she actually looked hotter and younger than she did on TV, which isn’t the way it usually works. She was the winner of the second season of Rock Of Love with Brett Michaels, the lead singer of Poison. I guess introducing bands at the Whiskey is just a natural progression after dating a rock star.

Laura Gossett was the first artist to take the stage at around 7:15. I’ve always got to give props to the first artist of the night. It takes more guts than you might realize to go first. Not only are people still walking around and talking during your set, but other bands are bringing in their equipment and it’s very distracting.

Laura sat alone with her keyboard in front of her. Some instruments littered the background waiting for other bands to show up later in the evening, but the presence of those instruments just seemed to emphasize the fact of how truly by herself she was. It probably didn’t help that her entourage of family and friends stood way in the back near the bar, leaving the dance floor in front of the stage barren as well. She was from Oklahoma, so that may have explained her lack of followers and band members at the show.

Too bad more people didn’t get to see her, because she had a really nice, powerful voice. Her piano playing was good, but the mixing job by the house P.A. system would have problems all night long and made the music a little distorted.

Shanta Loecker was the next artist to take the stage around 8:15. She also sat in the center of the stage with nothing but a keyboard in front of her. But she wasn’t by herself up there. She had a backup singer, a bass player, and a guitarist. The only one out of the three additional members you could even hear was the backup singer. The guitar and bass were so quiet that they probably couldn’t even hear themselves playing. I’m not sure if that was the poor house mixing or if by design.

Shanta’s voice was quiet and timid. She didn’t have any real stage presence and ended up muttering strange comments between songs like the comment after introducing the song “Childhood Mistake,” “No, it’s not about the last black guy I dated,” she said as she managed to embarrass herself. The audience probably had forgotten about her slip of the tongue, but before the next song she decided to apologize for the comment and mutter more incoherencies while doing so.

Personally, I wasn’t too impressed with her lackluster performance, but a group of about 20 girls showed up and sang along with most of the songs. They all really got excited at the final song, “Teacher,” and sang along with her almost word for word.

Rocket-Ship-Heroes Finally, an actual band, Rocketship Heroes, took the stage: a singer, lead guitar, bass, and *gasp* a drummer. The music started off just fine, but as soon as lead singer, Dani Slajer, started to sing you could tell something was wrong. Once again, the bad mixing job came into play; her microphone had no power. She ended up singing the entire first verse before they managed to fix the problem. But the Heroes were professional and kept right on going through all the technical problems. Their first song, which they never named, had a bit of a Good Charlotte feel to it and made me think of “Another loser anthem.”

Their originals were good and all solid rock songs. For some reason, I kept picturing them as a really young Blondie but with more edge. No, they weren’t that good, but I could see them metamorphize into a truly awesome rock band several years down the line.

The only negative thing I could say was that they didn’t do enough originals. They covered 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite,” a Jonas Brothers song, and Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker. With such a limited amount of time they had to perform, they needed to showcase their own talents more. The first two cover songs were fine, but Dani couldn’t even come close to reaching the power and intensity that Pat Benatar can bring with her voice.

Gabrielle WortmanAs the night went on, the audience slowly increased in size and the performers really started to bring it on. Gabrielle may not have been the best performer of the night, but she certainly tried the hardest. She brought it all. She had energy, sex appeal, and marketing. Earlier where there had been no band posters on the wall, suddenly there were tons of pictures of Gabrielle everywhere. They were even above the urinals in the men’s room. She also brought 20 young men with her who crowded the stage and cheered her on. Even her band was bigger than the others. Not only did she have the standard four members, but she had a saxophone and violin player as well.

Gabrielle also had a keyboard that she played, but she had a difficult time keeping her seat. From the opening notes of the first song she was hopping up and struggling to keep herself chained to her instrument. She didn’t play for long until she broke free and writhed around the stage. She really got into the songs as she enticed the audience with her body, until once again there were technical problems. Her monitor wasn’t loud enough and she couldn’t hear what she was singing. She became flustered and hit several off-key notes. After a few seconds the equipment issues were fixed, but it would take Gabrielle a couple more songs before she could get back into the groove of the music. By the time she was comfortable again, her time was up.

After a strange introduction as “The Actress in The Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” by a man with a bass guitar, who resembled Flavor Flav and didn’t seem to actually be in any of the bands playing that night, Marva King took the stage.

From the first note they struck you knew they were professionals. Of course, this band was about 20 years older than anyone else who had played that night, but they were good. Their music was soulful and jazzy. They played a cover of Seal’s “Crazy,” which Marva sang impressively and the band played as good as the original. The entire performance was very tight, and even the movements between Marva and her lead guitarist were smooth and synchronized as they played off one another. They were most definitely the best band at that point in the show.

Out of all the younger artists we saw at the show, I would have to say that Madadian had the best songs. The music is always what’s important, but it’s still going to be a couple years before they are polished enough to really have a chance of making it, but they were good.

Madadian-2 Lead singer Tiffany Madadian came out in what looked like a giant scarf made into a dress and a masquerade ball mask. A little strange, but all the young ladies who showed up to see this band approved of her outfit. Unfortunately, the P.A. system was once again having issues. Madadian’s vocals were too quiet, and her lead guitarist was having issues with his amplifier and making loud crackling noises every few minutes.

Playing right before the headliner was a good position for this band since the audience had finally settled in and it helped them get exposed to a few more people than might have seen them earlier in the evening. Even so, they had the biggest number of fans as a good portion knew the lyrics.

The first thing I have to say is who knew that Tiffany could sing? Of course, she’s always been a singer, but I mean really sing. There are a lot of people who can sing, but she actually has some serious vocal skills. Her set was as follows:

I Will not Breakdown
Be Alright
All the Talking
Sweet Child O’ Mine
I Saw Him Standing There
I Think We’re Alone Now
He’s All Man and He’s All Mine
Bobby McGee

Tiffany-1I was truly impressed with the songs she performed, and was happy because most of the songs rocked. There were no sweet sappy ballads and no cheesy pop, although I would have preferred a little of the cheese on “I Think We’re Alone Now” just because they tried to funk the song up and the music just didn’t work for me. I had not heard any of her originals, but they were all fun enjoyable songs. I may even consider looking up some of her albums and giving them a listen when I have the chance

Tiffany’s vocals blew up the house when she sang “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I’ve seen Guns N' Roses perform and I’ve heard many crappy versions of their songs, but Tiffany sang it well. And while one of her guitarists was new to her band, he played the song better than anyone I’ve heard play it other than Slash himself. Somehow I ended up in the front of the stage and about a foot away from him playing those solos. He was damned good.

When she sang “Heartbreaker,” she put Rocketship Heroes to shame since it was obvious how weak their rendition a few hours earlier was. I think Pat Benatar would have approved of Tiffany’s version.

The band was very professional and tight. You could certainly see the differences with the two more experienced bands that performed on Saturday night. When Tiffany performed, the club was finally packed with people.

There were a lot of fans that came to see her, so many that she even had her own creepy stalker fan in the front row. No, not me!! But there was a guy in his late 40s with white hair who stood dead center and just stared directly at her with a psycho-killer look on his face. The only time he would move was to raise his arms up in the air after every song like he was saying a prayer to the Lord. He came with his own giant, white pillow and unique odor. My friend had the pleasure of standing next to him during the show and thought he might be homeless, or at least he smelled that way. Later on the stalker went up to Tiffany, pillow under his arm, and talked to her in the upstairs balcony area where all the bands went to hang out and sell CDs and mingle with the fans. I kept waiting for a security guy to leap out and tackle him, but thankfully nothing bad happened.

Strange-Kind-1I’d have to say that I felt really bad for Strange Kind. Not only did three members get stuck in Seattle and miss the performance, but they had to play after the headliner. I think they need a new manager.

As soon as Tiffany’s set was over the crowd dispersed instantly. It went from a crowded 200 or so people to about 40 in less than a minute. As the crowd left, one guy was yelling, “Stay, everybody, please, stay. My best friend’s in the next band.”

Without half of their band members, two guys and a girl took the stage and did an acoustic set. The drummer beat on a wooden box while the other two played guitar. Surprisingly, they were pretty good. I would like to have heard them with a full band, but the unplugged set was a nice ending to the night.

Strange-Kind-2The lead singer was a woman named Xolie. Her voice had a folksy Irish sound to it, and she was dressed in a black and white striped shirt with a red bandanna and made her look like she had stepped out of an old French film. After their official set, they performed a song that Xolie had written about Seattle with a French sound to it and a trumpet solo that she performed without the use of a trumpet.

I didn’t think I was going to like them when they first started, but they were fun and entertaining and didn’t take the whole situation too seriously.

The show ended at 1:30 and I left the Whiskey feeling glad that I had gone to something I really wasn’t looking forward to when the night began and it had turned out to be a good night after all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Barbra Streisand - Live in Concert 2006 (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

Barbra Streisand is someone that I have always wanted to see in concert; however, the ticket prices have always kept me at bay. Streisand: Live in Concert 2006 provided an opportunity to learn what I have been missing.

The concert begins with a “Funny Girl Overture” featuring the 58 musicians who accompany Barbra. Interwoven with the music are interviews of the extremely diverse fans that are in attendance. It provides a great sense of the feeling at the show and creates great anticipation for her to appear. I got the chills and must admit that tears came to my eyes when she took the stage. From there, all of my expectations were exceeded.

The range of songs performed during the show is expansive. She sings well-known favorites such as “Evergreen” and “People,” but also belts out obscure numbers like “Unusual Way” and “Cockeyed Optimist.” My favorite song of the show is one I had never heard before called “Ma Première Chanson” and hearing her sing in French is absolutely fantastic. Barbra performs 22 songs but there are so many more she could have included I wish it would have gone on for many more hours.

Aside from the amazing music and vocals, the stage set-up is extremely impressive. The stage is 360? and allows Barbra to reach more of the audience. There are tables, chairs, and flowers set up in multiple places providing a very homey feeling. She is very comfortable on stage and you can tell that she is really having a good time. She talks between each song, providing historical information about the music along with personal tidbits. For example, when talking about selections from Funny Girl, she explains what is happening at the moment that the song takes place in the story and its significance. In addition to educating the crowd about the music, she also wants the chance to share a piece of herself. She even takes some time to answer questions from the audience. While it is obvious that the questions are pre-selected and she likely has some pre-written adlibs, it still provides a chance for her to make a connection and establish herself as a down-to-earth person. Her politics are part of who she is and while she does make several political comments, she never does anything that would alienate “non-liberal leaning” viewers.

The bonus features include two additional songs from Barbra and two songs from her special guest of the evening Il Divo. There are also behind-the-scenes interviews and information on The Streisand Foundation.

The 1080p high definition presented 16x9 displays a really great picture. The different levels of black can be delineated and combined with the great texture detail makes clear the folds of the fabric in her gown. The gold sparkles and pops off the screen in contrast. The sparkling backdrop and lighting are vivid.

The audio defaults to PCM 2.0 and is also available in PCM 5.1 Surround. The audio experience is immersive as the orchestra, the echo of her voice, and the audience ambiance puts the viewer in the center of the action.

If you have never seen Barbra Streisand before, here is you chance to experience one of the greatest artists of all-time perform. She looks great, sounds great, and proves that she still knows how to thrill a crowd. This is one special night of music to relive over and over, up close and personal, possibly even taking the place of seeing her from a bad seat faraway. I can’t recommend this enough.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Black Crowes: Warpaint Live

Written by Fumo Verde

If you like deep blues mixed in with your rock ‘n’ roll, then the Black Crowes should be on your list of who to see next. Warpaint was the first album cut after the band took a five-year hiatus and though a critic from Maxim gave it a bad review, we have to remember that that kat didn’t even listen to it. I did and I like it.

So why a live CD? Live CDs have a feel to them studio cuts can’t reflect, such as the sound of the crowd roaring when a favorite song comes along or how the band members interact with that crowd and how they interact with each other. Details like these bring a different spirit to a live disc and this double-CD set contains those little details, making up a great show. The Black Crowes put on a great show and I know this from personal experience. “Warpaint” was great and Warpaint Live brings the spirit of the music to your speakers and makes you want save up for tickets.

Like the studio disc, the live show opens with “Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution” and mirrors the studio album track list. CD number one is the whole Warpaint album, while disc number two contains six other tracks the band recorded just for this album. Now that’s a killer deal, to have some unrecorded tunes come in during the second set is like extra icing on your cake. The Los Angeles audience who was privy to catch this show, I envy you.

Some of my favorites are “Evergreen” with its deep bass intro that dances into some waltzing guitar riffs, and “We Who See The Deep” which rips open with a riff reminiscent of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” but slower, like a sweet southern drawl. “Locust Street” has to be the song I like the most off this album with its wandering melody and gentle lyrics. “Dry bread on the table, burn the milk, salt the paper/ And its easy pickings on Locus Street/ There’s no place to hide/ And you can’t find love on Locust Street/ But you can hear the sunrise crying…”

If you’re like me and you liked the studio disc, the live one will be a favorite too, especially when you pop in the disc number two. “Poor Elijah - Tribute to Johnson (Medley),” “Darling of the Underground Press,” and “Torn and Frayed” have more of a blues touch than a rock one. “Don’t Know Why” starts out with a rock riff, but softly glides into a blues melody then explodes into a rock jam as the instruments come alive then quietly step back as the lyrics fall in to the fray. This tune has more of a gospel sound with its tempo and its feel. I enjoyed all six tracks but “Hey Grandma” has to be the one I like the most. If Bugs Bunny were to say, “A little traveling music, Doc,” this song would start up and off that rascally rabbit would go. This jam opens up the guitar strings and lets them rip it up.

I complain about having albums with most of the same tunes on them, but with five new tracks, the record company finally gave us a deal. While I sit typing away and playing the music, I must remind myself to pick up some tickets the next time they come around, but for now, Warpaint Live will have to do.

Thank you, Black Crowes. Wherever you are.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Malfaktor - The Delay Of The Inevitable

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Huntington Beach’s experimental industrial-metal band Malfaktor hits hard on their debut album The Delay Of The Inevitable, which saw the break of moonlight in late 2008. Providing eleven tracks that pound, slam, and quietly seduce you at various times throughout the disc. Holding fast to their influences while forging a sound of their own, Malfaktor pulls you into their dark world of heavy industrial beats and rhythms, filled out by synth chords and scratchy, heavily distorted guitar and bass, all woven together by the whisper-to-scream vocals.

The mad scientists behind the album’s sound are Larry Orban III (bass, synths, programming), Alex Beal (guitar), Max Ortega (synths, programming, production), and Doug Cheek (vocals, programming, production). The band has gone through some line-up changes as members come and go; check their Myspace page for band history and current line-up. From the get-go the heavy industrial beats grab you and force you to move, pulsing along with the hammering steel heartbeat, distorted bass lines, and equally distorted guitar scratch. Metallic pings, wire plucks, and all sorts of other hard industrial sounds keep you wondering “what the hell is that?” while making it hard to pry away from the disc. Doug’s vocals are low and menacing at times and can soar to macabre, blood-stirring screams as he desires and the songs command.

Song titles and lyrics continue down the dark, macabre path that the album title implies. With track names like “Memoirs Of A Dead Man,” “One By One,” “Sub-Human Machine,” “Sarcophagus,” and “Body Bag” along with horror-film titles such as “The Resistance,” “The Dethroner,” “The Seed,” “The Octopus,” and “Dirty Faith.” From what I can make of the lyrics they are very reflective of the titles. At times the lyrics and vocals are muddy and blend in with the music, which isn’t a bad thing as it adds to the overall appeal of Malfaktor and gives you one more twisted puzzle to piece together, claiming each lyric decoded as a small victory and further look into chief songwriter Doug’s mind.

“Memoirs,” “One By One,” and “Sarcophagus” are the tunes to watch as they showcase what the band can do and what they are capable of. “Memoirs” has an infectious typewriter beat throughout as the guitar shreds in and out around the bloody, murder scene vocals. “One By One” has crowd favorite and hit record oozing out of every sound and into your ears. Catchy chorus, synth, and guitar drive this dark delight while its less than four-minute runtime keep you hitting the repeat button.

“Sarcophagus” opens with a synth run that brings to mind Depeche Mode’s darker pieces but quickly turns midnight black as metal axes fall and machinegun-burst beats change the mood from light torment to the panic of darkness, no air black out, claustrophobia of having a coffin lid closed on you. Music swells, vocals come to a thrilling high before all simmers down for Doug to put forth the closing stament of “a battered soul that was never meant to have the eyes to see.”

Influences are easy to spot from Nine Inch Nails and Fear Factory to Rob Zombie and a score of other bands but Malfaktor puts their stamp down hard on the music they strive to create and deliver to those willing to venture forth into the darkness to find. So far this year Malfaktor’s “The Delay Of The Inevitable” is one of my favorites and I can’t stop spinning it; it’s as if my stereo won’t let go of it and my iPod refuses to skip past it.

For more info on Malfaktor, how to get a copy of The Delay Of The Inevitable or where you can catch them live head to their Myspace page. Also on the page are selections from the CD along with some well done remixes.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bonnaroo 2008 - Live

Written by Fumo Verde

Okay, so you may have read about or heard via Internet radio show B-Sides Concept Album about Bonnaroo 2008 and the adventure El Bicho and I had while there. Well the DVD of this four-day event has hit the stores and though there were more performances there than one could possibly see, sixteen acts made this DVD. I noticed there were only seven bands on this disc that EB and I had a chance to see, the other nine would be new for me, but this was a chance to see what I missed.

The show for you watching this disc begins with meeting some of the cool people who attended this festival, while showing you images of grounds where it all happened. The first band up is The Raconteurs playing “Old Enough”. I was stoked to see these katz on here because EB and I, when they were playing, were halfway across the festival grounds watching some other band, the name of which eludes me right now. [El Bicho’s note: the bands watched during the Raconteurs set were Les Claypool, The Swell Season, and Rilo Kiley.] It’s followed by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings playing “Let Them Knock,” a performance from a band we only got to see play their final song. It has that R&B beat as the brass section adds to the fullness of the sound. Jones has one of those voices that remind you of Della Reese or Aretha Franklin.

Another band I was told to see but didn’t get a shot at was Broken Social Scene. “Love Is New” is a tune I have heard a few times on the local college station, but seeing them here on this disc really makes me want to see them now, be it Bonnaroo or any local venue. Other bands that made it onto the DVD, which we missed but now seeing them I definitely want to catch live, are Gogol Bordello who have an international sound that mixes folk rock with a splash of theater for the eye. Their song “Think Locally/ Fuck Globally” has enough energy to power the town of Manchester, TN. Chali 2na w/Galactic’s “Lock Shit/ Right Now” blends rap with rock and uses a baritone saxophone to get those super low notes.

Bands which we saw and are here on this DVD are Pearl Jam (“Better Man”), Jack Johnson (“If I had Eyes”) Metallica (“Fade to Black”) [El Bicho’s note: Fumo hit our tent for refreshments during their set.] along with two new bands for myself: Mastodon (“Colony of Birchmen”) and My Morning Jacket (“I’m Amazed”). Mastodon I would consider to be a metal band. Following in the footsteps of Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Anthrax, Mastodon has a hard edge and full-throttle energy driven by the drums and bass. These are katz I need to keep an eye out for when they come to my town. My Morning Jacket is the complete opposite but just as good. They have a sound which is hard to describe because each song is different, yet this tune “I’m Amazed,” well, one could say they sound a little like Phish, or the Dead, or even the Eagles, but that still doesn’t capture the essence of My Morning Jacket, another band I’m getting tickets for when they come to town.

This DVD will give you a little taste of what Bonnarooers were privilege to witness and enjoy. After watching this disc, I really want to go there again, and though the adventure was a total trip, and EB and I partied a little too hard near the end, it was an experience I think any fan of good music should take. This DVD brings 1/10th of what the total Bonnaroo experience was and is, but for those who couldn’t make it or for those of us who did Bonnaroo 2008 - Live is a fantastic way to see some of the best bands around. All I can say is, thank you, Manchester, TN and thank you, Bonnaroo.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Thin Lizzy - Still Dangerous

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Laying forgotten for over thirty years this Thin Lizzy live performance is finally available and stands as a testament that this small band from Dublin, Ireland still kicks ass and can rock your socks off. Recorded live from the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia in 1977, Still Dangerous documents a moment in time just before the band was ready to kick off its proper tour, a warm-up run if you will, and would record the amazing and very popular Live And Dangerous. But make no mistakes this show is no mere warm-up as Thin Lizzy rocks and rolls relentlessly through ten tracks in 47 minutes.

Thin Lizzy, led by singer/songwriter Phil Lynott hit the scene in 1971 with a self-titled debut that didn’t fair too well, but the boys kept at it developing that true Lizzy sound we know and love over their next seven albums. Killer albums such as Night Life, Jailbreak and Bad Reputation would produce the songs that the band would come to be known for, especially Jailbreak with the title anthem and perhaps their biggest hit “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Yet as with any truly great band the real test lays in their live act and in 1978 with Live And Dangerous Thin Lizzy provided this proof to fans that couldn’t (and in the not-too-distant future wouldn’t be able to) catch them live. LAD ran through all the heavy-hitting, twin-guitar-led power tunes that would cement the Thin Lizzy legacy for all time.

Now just over thirty years later we get the companion piece Still Dangerous and are treated to more Thin Lizzy magic. Not as long as LAD but just as enjoyable, it contains the hits by the classic line-up (Lynott lead vocals/bass, Scott Gorham guitar, Brian Robertson guitar, Brian Downey drums) and some tunes not found on LAD. What remains the same is that overall power and drive that places Thin Lizzy among the best of the ‘70s rock world. Twin guitars attack fast and hard as Lynott swings his bass like an axe while the drums hammer out beats to keep the feet moving and the fist pumping.

Thin Lizzy (pronounced in the proper Irish as “tin lizzie”) jams through the biggies, “Jailbreak” complete with sirens and alarm bells, “Cowboy Song,” “Dancing In The Moonlight” with its sax break, and the heavy-hitting anthem “The Boys Are Back In Town” which sounds just as good live as it does from the studio. Not found on LAD are the social-conscious war tune “Soldier Of Fortune,” the story of the “Opium Trail” and the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll inspired “Me And The Boys.” “Opium Trail” has some major KISS-sounding riffs while “Me And The Boys” must have been heard by the boys in Van Halen. Screaming guitar, hyper drums, and Lynott’s scat-like, jumbled vocals are reminiscent of David Lee Roth; think “Hot For Teacher” on this track. Rounding out the CD are “Massacre,” “Don’t Believe A Word,” and “Baby Drives Me Crazy.”

Its clear that Thin Lizzy was the inspiration for many bands that would follow and fill the void left as the 1980s set in and Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy fell apart. The classic line-up heard here would split just after the release of Live And Dangerous while Lynott’s drug addiction would send him spiraling to an early grave. But we now have another great live recording in Still Dangerous left behind to ease the pain and keep us rockin’.

Thin Lizzy is rock ‘n’ roll at its finest. They may not be the best or most popular band in the world or from their era, but they can knock down walls with their powerful rock drive. If Thin Lizzy doesn’t get you moving then you either have no soul or simply don’t know shit about rock ‘n’ roll! Not once, not never!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Hot Club Of San Francisco - Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt And Impressionists

The Hot Club Of San Francisco has chosen sixteen tracks from Django Reinhardt and others who may have inspired him for their latest CD entitled Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt And The Impressionists. Good choices for the band as its roots lie in the Django Gypsy tradition. Led by Paul Mehling, (guitar/banjo) for over twenty years The Hot Club has put out ten previous albums and is making their debut on Azica Records with this tribute to the master.

Jean “Django” Reinhardt (Django means “I awake” in Romani) is known for his gypsy swing style of guitar and banjo work. What makes him unique is the fact that due to extensive injuries by fire Django lost the use of two of his fingers on his left hand (the third and fourth) and is said to have played his solos with only two fingers, using the paralyzed two for chord work. Playing a string instrument is difficult enough as it is, but Django pulled it off with his injuries and gave birth to a very unique sound.

Filled with string bass, violin, banjo, rhythm and lead guitars, the Django sound is rounded out by piano, theremin, and at times various wind instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn), provided by the all-female Aeros Quintet. Django can jump with tunes like “Vendredi 13,” slow down and swing a bit with “Diminushing Blackness,” mellow out on “Nympheas” and get somber with the moody “Bolero.” “Diminushing Blackness” and “Bolero” have very dark tones to them especially “Bolero” with its heavily strummed, plodding guitar, tricky solos, and sad, weeping violin. An instant favorite. The other two Django tracks are the sweet “Messe/Improvisation” and “Improvisation No.3,” which is sad and dark one minute then bouncy the next and back to gloomy.

The Hot Club also covers three tunes by Claude Debussy. A short excerpt of “Pour l’egyptienne” continues the moody darkness of the weeping violin along with jangled guitar work and then reprise of the same title. Third by Debussy is the equally sad yet sweet “Clair De Lune,” one gets the feeling of a lost love in the moonlight as the guitar gently strums and picks over the quiet violin.

Also included is a well-known waltz by Francis Poulenc, “Les Chemins De L’Amour;” a slow tune that fits right in with the other selections, offering more of the same quiet violin and guitar work done in waltz time and movement. On the other hand, there is Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Pearls” that jumps and swings with its lead banjo, peppy rhythm guitar, and solid, playful bass plucks.

Not to be left out of the mix The Hot Club has chimed in with three tracks of their own songs to match and rival the masters they adore so much. “Le Surdoue” is a jumpin’ ditty that kicks off the disc and gets you moving, laying the ground work for what is to come. The song flies at its open with guitar work, slows a bit in the center to let the violin sing, and gives way to the plunks of the bass as it pushes the song forward setting up track two. “Le Jongleur” pops with jumpy, jangled guitar, banjo strums, and singing, sweet violin as the bass thumps on behind them all, giving off a hint of the somber, moody tunes to come. “Waltz For M.C. Escher” is a slow and moody piece that brings all the elements together and adds the creepy, smooth theremin to the mix.

The Hot Club Of San Francisco: Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt And The Impressionists is a fine introduction to both The Hot Club and Django (and friends) for those who don’t know much on the gypsy jazz of the ‘20s and ‘30s. For those familiar with the works of both, this CD will be a welcome addition to the collection as it is a fine album, filled with many wonderful songs that are easy to listen to over and over again as the CD clocks in at just about an hour. The moody tunes set next to the up-tempo jumps are beautifully placed and push the pace of the disc making a very enjoyable listen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Brighton Port Authority: I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Hitting the streets with beats and grooves long thought lost in a seaport warehouse is The Brighton Port Authority’s long-awaited CD release, I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat. Better known as The BPA and recorded under the creative watch of Norman Cook in collaboration with many unique vocalists, these long-lost gems are finally revealed to the public. So join me and uncover just who and what are The BPA.

The story goes that in the 1970s a young Norman Cook recorded these tracks to tape with his mysterious jam band backing various lead vocalists in their portside studio. Rumors of the tapes and the band itself circulated for years until a box containing the tapes was finally found confirming their existence. With some work the tapes where cleaned up and put out on CD.

Then there is the real story of The BPA which is Cook, better known as Fat Boy Slim, put this thing together with the help and vocal assistance of a few of his talented friends. Together they managed to kick out some very danceable jams for the pop/electronica/indie/dance crowd to move and groove to.

The twelve tracks on I Think… move along at a quick pace, laying the beats down in a very enjoyable time of 43 minutes. The time is perfect for those of us that prefer our dance music fix not to last hours on end in marathon rave fashion. The track order is also laid out well. As any good DJ can, Cook has arranged the songs in an order that picks you up with solid up-tempo beats and rhythms while letting you chill and groove to the more mellow tunes. A truly good mix.

Iggy Pop lends his peculiar vocals to the ‘60s soul stomp “He’s Frank (Slight Return),” which leads off the disc with heavy drums and bass supported by funky lead guitars and handclaps. Heading right into “Dirty Sheets” with Pete York on vocals and slowing the pace down a bit, none of the beat is lost and distorted murky-sounding guitar work is added. From there it’s a seamless trip back to solid dance grooves with odd chord-bending guitar sounds and layered vocals by Connan Mockasin while blurred and blended horns twist behind.

And the cycle begins again with another ‘60s-sounding track. This time with Ashley Beedle providing the voice to the heavy island rhythm, ska overload that is “Should I Stay Or Should I Blow.” The disc slows once more with “Island” and bumps it pace back up with “Local Town,” the former featuring Justin Robertson, the latter Jamie T.

The ladies take the next two tunes. Emmy The Great gently leads “Seattle” with her sweet voice. The tune that is laid back yet jumps when the time is right, never overpowering Emmy’s vocals. Martha Wainwright’s dominates “Spade” in a way that has you digging her voice as the ska rhythm keeps you nodding your head and swaying with the beat. The two gentle voices supplied by these ladies add two more highlights to a strong album, carrying the middle section of the CD.

Not that this disc has a weak section as it rounds out with Simon Thornton’s dreamy “Superman,” Cagedbaby’s sublime “Superlover,” David Byrne (that’s right from Talking Heads) and Dizzee Rascal’s horn-filled dance explosion “Toe Jam.” “Toe Jam” is all Byrne as his vocals, like Iggy’s, are noticeable and are controlled by their delivery. And so it goes as the album closes with Olly Hite taking vocals on “So It Goes,” a keyboard-laden track that’s mellow and groovy and ends the CD perfectly, leaving your head bobbing.

I’m not one for too much electro/dance stuff of the Fatboy Slim nature but The BPA I enjoyed and I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat is a disc I’ll be spinning for awhile. My favorite tracks will surly find their way to frequent my play list.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Van Morrison: Astral Weeks - Live At The Hollywood Bowl.

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

I write about movies. That's where I feel most at home. I've always loved the great directors. The ones that put their stamp on their films. The ones that tell stories that transcend the screen - that stick with you for years. But when a director makes a great film, he doesn't get a chance to remake it forty years later. It's that fact that brought me to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks: Live At The Hollywood Bowl.

Van Morrison's 1968 release, Astral Weeks has made just about every list of Top Albums Of All-Time that I've seen. I first encountered the album in my late teens as a budding fiction writer. I found the stream of consciousness feel of the lyrics drew me in. The combination of pop, jazz, and blues influences of the music held my rapt attention. The songs did not necessarily tell a coherent story as much as all revolve symbolically around love and the relationship of our desires to greater ideals of heaven. These amazing lyrics were written and sung by a very talented 23-year-old.

The same year, 1968, Stanley Kubrick released his most important work, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also considered one of the most important films of all-time, 2001 also draws upon almost a stream of consciousness visual storytelling. Sounds and images (especially classical music) are used in telling a story in ways that were also groundbreaking at the time. The 40-year-old, Kubrick, used science fiction to symbolically discuss our humanity and our relationships with technology, Nature, and God. By 2008, Kubrick had passed away and he did not have the ability to remake his film with the knowledge he had gained in the past forty years.

In 2008, Van Morrison played for two nights at the Hollywood Bowl (November 7 and 8), working with a orchestral string section, and performed the entire Astral Weeks album. My fascination is with the interpretation of these groundbreaking songs over the forty years. Van Morrison has the luxury of looking back at the compositions and the lyrics from the perspective of a 63-year-old man. Simply singing the lyrics as written and playing the music as it is on the album would bring a different interpretation in itself. Like any crafty artist, Van Morrison used the opportunity to make 40-year-old lyrics seem like they were written this morning. The arrangements extend the jazz and blues themes of the original album.

"Astral Weeks - I Believe I've Transcended" tells you exactly what this album means after forty years. Easily my favorite song on this release. The lyrics and music meander like a wandering stream. The tempo rises and falls, continually rising to a new level. Transcended is the perfect word for what the 63-year-old man sees when he sings about love. The lyric "I believe I've transcended" is a new one repeated at the end of the song and it sounds like the ending of a gospel song.

"Beside You" is a love song about being spiritually together with you child. The song of hope in your 20s is a song of wise, melancholy in your 60s. The mournful strings make this a richer, fuller song.

"Slim Slow Slider - I Start Breaking Down" is the last song on the album, that's now placed as the third track. I always recall this as one of the more bluesy pieces on the original album. He stretches it out here, really playing up the jazz and blues angle of the piece. The additional lyrics of "I Start Breaking Down" clears up the symbolic theme of drug abuse. The music reflects chorus.

"Sweet Thing," my favorite song off the original album, is almost flipped on its head here. This song has the most evocative lyrics on the album. It's got beautiful symbolism of love as a blooming garden. The song envisions a future of growing old together - "You shall take me strongly in your arms again / And I will not remember that I ever felt pain." Sung with a swelling string section, instead of being a song about future love, it feels like an ode to a lost love that he'll be reunited with in Heaven. The meaning remains but the vision is even more poignant here.

"The Way Young Lovers Do" was my least favorite song on the original album and remains so here. Lyrically obtuse and musically the basic jazz arrangement just doesn't do anything for me - especially following the brilliance of "Sweet Thing."

"Cypress Avenue - You Came Walking Down" is both about Belfast and a mystical city. The progression of the song through Van Morrison's vision and impressionistic memories feels much deeper sung from the distance of forty years. There's a rhythm to the lyrics that is transcendent, much like "Astral Weeks." The urge to get back to a young love is so much more heartfelt here. The same lyrics feel so fresh here - this song may be the most improved over the years.

"Ballerina" is one of Van Morrison's best love songs. It doesn't sound much different than it did originally. That's not a bad thing.

"Madame George" is a short story in itself. Also, one to meander, not in a hurry to get anywhere, the song picks you up and just floats you along for almost ten minutes. I don't know if I even could summarize the story. But you feel like you are just watching humanity, plain and simple. And the feeling is of acceptance and love for everyone. It's a high concept and I'm amazed by how easily he pulls it off. It benefits from the beautiful string section in the live version.

"Listen To The Lion - The Lion Speaks" is a bonus song not originally from Astral Weeks. It was played as an encore to the concert. Following the celebration of humanity in "Madame George", this song is all about the internal search for one's Soul. It is the culmination of the transcendence started at the beginning of the set. Van Morrison finds the lion in himself as he approaches Heaven. A very deep concept that finds a comfortable home here.

"Common One" is the only truly disappointing track on the album. Not because it isn't a superb Van Morrison song. But mainly because I want the album to end with "Listen To The Lion."

I'd like to think that Stanley Kubrick would have been able to sit down behind the director's chair and tell the same story of 2001 but with the knowledge of a man in his 80s and tell an even deeper story that would open up even more thematic elements to the viewer. Van Morrison found the perfect outlet for his work. Not simply a rerelease, performing the songs again gives them even more soul than they did in 1968. There's a freedom to his voice that fills you up - like going to church - you feel deep inside. It's simple. It's transcendent.

Mike Gordon: The Green Sparrow

Written by Fumo Verde

While Phish was on hiatus, Mike Gordon has been running strong. The Green Sparrow is Gordon’s second solo album which came out in the summer of 2008 and contains ten original songs. It finds him joined by friends like former band mate Trey Anastasio, Bill Kreutzmann from the Grateful Dead, and Chuck Leavell from the Allman Brothers Band. Backed by guitarist Scott Murawski, keyboardist Tom Cleary, drummer Todd Isler, and percussionist Craig Myers, The Green Sparrow comes off smooth with a soothing vibe and easy beat to kick back to. Gordon is fine wordsmith and knows how to put together a good album.

I was told by my buddy Abe to listen to “Andelmans’ Yard” first. It has a very Phish feel to it with its dancing bass line and the “quick note playing” guitar riffs. “I forgot my problems or so it seems/ I was able to leave them in another dream./ But I got my friends and we’re running hard/ A few feet beneath the fallen leaves in the Andelmans’ yard” A song about digging tunnels in your old neighborhood may sound quirky but it lays down the images of suburban life with houses that look all the same and nicely kept lawns and hedges. “Radar Blip” which has a funky bass line and groovy drumbeat follows it. The keyboards break in and then recede, giving this tune a trippy ‘70s vibe as a brass section fills in at certain points and gives the song a sweet big band boost.

“Further Down” has to be one of my favorites on this CD. Opening up with the drum line broken by a grand guitar strum, the song runs like a well-oiled machine. The guitar work is amazing and opens the door for the song to take off. “I’m trying to dig further down/ I’m hoping to scrape across the lip of your buried crown./ I’m finding the way you live to be unsound/ But I’m still trying to dig further down”. If radio deejays are looking for a track good enough for public airwaves, “Further Down” should be that song. “Another Door” opens the CD and it too starts with Gordon’s funky bass style. The drums drive the tune as the guitar and keyboards ramble along giving the song a “feel good” vibe.

The Green Sparrow has this vibe throughout the whole album and though Gordon makes each song different he never looses sight of what he intends to bring out in the music. For Phish fans and lovers of easy-going music, it has that sweet sound and it shows the continuous growth of Gordon’s musical talents. Those who dig this kind of hippie jive will be down with this album.