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.