Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Keane "Under The Iron Sea"

Submergence, 4 out of 5 Stars

Like so many bands to come of age since the turn of the century, Keane has absorbed the dynamics and mystery of U2 and Radiohead. "Under The Iron Sea" makes these bands touchstones, but also makes a tight, dark rock album. The anthemic "Is It Any Wonder" sounds like Keane cloned Achtung Baby, and this is said as a compliment. Same with the instrumental title track that leads into "Try Again."

Lead singer and frontman Tom Chaplin faces the band's new-found trans-Atlantic success by trying to understand what the world looks like now that he's seen most of it. "Atlantic" and "Crystal Ball" ride a crest of pianos of keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, Keane are also coming to terms with their own maturity. Catchy like Coldplay but not as dramatic, grand like Muse but lacking the bombast, "Under The Iron Sea" is a solid work of modern rock. It's also worth noting that the follow-up, Perfect Symmetry, is much lighter and poppier.

Glammy Album Covers Through the Ages.

Adam Lambert has been the topic of much discussion about his album cover for the forthcoming "For Your Entertainment."
I have the feeling that most of the youngsters creeped out are of such a tender age as to not remember such seventies covers as these:

Daryl Hall & John Oates, 1976
David Bowie, 1975

Montrose (featuring Sammy Hagar!), 1973

Mr Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo himself, Rick Derringer, 1975

Lambert's cover immediately drew mixed reactions from fans, but Lambert spoke up in defense of the heavily airbrushed image."Thank you to those who appreciate and understand that the album cover is deliberately campy," Lambert wrote. "It's an homage to the past. It IS ridiculous. For those that don't get it: oh well...Glad to have gotten your attention," added Lambert. "Androgyny.... is Rock n Roll."

Friday, October 30, 2009

House Diva Sophie Cat makes her World Series Prediction

The backstory: There's a lady from Florida who takes up residence at a local Dunkin' Donuts parking lot, setting up tent/tarps, tables and a van load of liscenced Phillies - World Series gear. Joel and I stopped to pick up a couple of shirts, and I set them on the love seat once we got home. Within minutes, Sophie had decided they were her new cat mat. But the pose was too priceless to pass up, so out came the camera.

She says "Phillies in seven."

My Amazon Reviews: Slaid Cleaves "Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away"

Making the World Safe for the Millionaires, 5 out of 5 Stars

I've long posited on Amazon reviews that Slaid Cleaves is America's best working young folksinger and one of our finest interpretive singers. I considered his Unsung to be one of that year's best records. Yet, he has outdone himself on this album, "Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away." This is Slaid's most political and least romantic album to date. The feel bad album title should be a dead giveaway right off, but the subject matter skirts into some bleak territory. "Hard To Believe" looks hard at a midwestern town that is slipping into oblivion as the factories shut down and the first person's romance leaves. And then he tucks in the barb "Here comes another blown up kid from over there, making the whole world safe for the millionaires" as the blue collar remainders head for the local watering hole. It's a part of the hidden bite to all the songs here; Slaid sings in a honey-rough voice that belies the sting of his words.

Many of the folks in Slaid's song still live (as he has put in many of his albums) on the whiskey and smoke, but now they are wondering why they've been forced to swallow a "New coat of lies." The mundane horror of life keeps popping up again and again, like the new widow on "Green Mountains and Me," who learns of her loss as she watches "your Daddy shakes the soldier's hands, frozen in the doorway where he stands." Or the horrific/deadpan delivery of the hanging that takes place on "Twistin'." Like the coal-mine widow he sang of on Broke Down's "Lydia," family loss is just a recurring dream that never seems to lose its sadness...and as he adds in "Dreams," the good dreams just disappoint you as they die.

Yet the music, downbeat as the descriptions sound, is thoroughly likable. The hopeful "Beautiful Thing" swings hard at the liars and manipulators in the belief that "the goodness of man" sees us through "the new dark ages." I got to see Slaid play most of these songs at Philadelphia's Tin Angel and his deft and casual delivery makes the bitterness of some of these songs easy to digest, and his hopeful demeanor carries through "Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away." The playing and production is pure Americana roots music - and it makes "Everything" Slaid Cleves' best to date in a career that already has several terrific albums on the player.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Jethro Tull "Roots to Branches"

Putting Down Deep Roots, 4 out of 5 Stars

Ian Anderson has always seemed older than his years, from the Man V God introspection of Aqualung to being one of the first major bands to embrace folkier elements (even during the rise of punk-rock) with Songs from the Wood, so it is no surprise that their later music has aged as well as their earlier classics. "Roots To Branches," Tull's final album in their multi-decade tenure on Chrysalis records, is one of the band's best 90's albums, in a league with Catfish Rising and Crest of a Knave.

This was also an album where Jethro Tull stretched out musically. Anderson's new-found fascination with Middle Eastern music pushes some of these into sonically rich territory ("Rare and Precious Chain," "Dangerous Veils"), while some of the extended arrangements sound alot like old fashioned fusion music, especially the title track and "Veils." Martin Barre is still a guitar monster whose lead blasts show an artist that should get a lot more recognition that he does.

Anderson's turf is as defined as it has always been. He remains lyrically obtuse as ever ("Beside Myself") and delightfully cantankerous. His smirking "Wounded, Old and Treacherous" could easily have been a part of Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! II should such an album exist. And the thinly disguised parable of "Valley" (world conflict as a battle for water between mountain communities) is wonderful. The lost world of old haunts, "Another Harry's Bar," is a quintessential old man's lament from a man who's penned his share (with echoes of classic Dire Straits). Also, if you were wondering, Anderson's flute playing is a predominant as ever.

Schwarzenegger sends F-you to gay assemblyman

Paragraph main body, first letter of margin line reading down.
How "kindergarden cop" of the Gub.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Three O'Cock "Vermillion"

Vemillion Runs Out the Clock, 3 out of 5 Stars

The Three O'Clock was one of the bands in Los Angeles' paisley underground, and probably the best of the bunch next to the more successful Bangles. About the same time Prince was having his dalliance with Susanna Hoffs, he was also launching his Paisley Park custom record label. It turns that the Bangles dug the Three O'Clock, and Prince, just having written "Manic Monday" for the ladies, signed these boys personally. Prince then handed The Three O'Clock "Neon Telephone" and sent them into the studio.

The result was "Vermillion," The Three O'Clock's swansong. After the delightfully trippy pop that the band delievered on the IRS albums Arrive Without Travelling and Ever After, "Vermillion" seemed downright tame. There were stories that Warners was trying to push lead singer/songwriter Michael Quercio into teen-idol territory and he was balking, stranding this album between cool psych-pop and outright poptune territory. And while The Three O'Clock still sounds good, "Vermillion" is a limp across the finish line for a band that could have been 80's huge.

It's interesting to note that Jason Faulkner of Jellyfish was on board for this album, and contributed the terrific "Love Has No Heart." Prince's contribution, "Neon Telephone," was hooky enough but a trifle in his songwriting. "When She Becomes My Girl" skirts Lola territory. There's plenty of good songs here, like "Ways of Magic," "Love Explosion" and the closer, Qurcio's "Through The Sleepy Town," but even with The Purple One's backing, it wasn't enough. Since you can get "Vermilion" used on the cheap, I can recommend this to fans of 80's power-pop ala 20/20, Shoes, or the aforementioned Bangles.

I'm rooting for the Phillies...

But this cracks me up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Ryan Bingham "Roadhouse Sun"

Rough and Road Ready,
3 Out of 5 Stars

Ryan Bingham is not some faux rodeo clown with a stetson and western shirt. He picked up guitar as a teen-aged ranch hand and once he'd worked up a batch of songs, hit the Texas rodeo circuit, often sleeping in the back of his truck when better sofas weren't available. The rough and road weary tone of his second album, "Roadhouse Sun," spares no quarter and minces no words. He takes one of his catchiest songs, "Dylan's Hard Rain," and blows any chance of radio-play by dropping a mother-f-bomb in the middle of it. He derisively snorts in his tear-down on 21'st century politics;

"And down in Tijuana people are growing tubloads of marijuana.
Maybe some day our friends will be American Farmers."

While Ryan makes his label home on Lost Highway, his take on American Roots music hews closer to Springsteen's Devils & Dust or Steve Earle's Washington Square Serenade than Willie or Merle. The CD closer, "Wishing Well," is the kind of southern rock The Black Crowes can whip up on a regular basis. (Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford is "Roadhouse Sun's" producer.) There's still plenty of roadhouse to be found here, whether it is the stomp of "Hey Hey Hurray" or the straight up country of "Tell Mama I Miss Her So."

On the other hand, "Roadhouse Sun" still doesn't feel like Bingham's got his whole scope under control, bringing to mind another Americana Ryan, one Ryan Adams. It took Adams several albums before he could lasso all his muses into a coherent entity, and "Roadhouse Sun" gives me somewhat the same impression. Bingham offers plenty to like with lots of promise - and his band, The Dead Horses, sure make a convincing backup racket - making Ryan Bingham an artist to watch.

Recommended for fans of :
Steve Earle
James McMurtry
Springsteen's Nebraska

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Seal "Soul"

Opening the All American Songbook, 4 out of 5 Stars

To my ears, Seal is one of the finest soul vocalists on Earth. So after the robotic and only slightly engaging System, he follows up with an album that would seem to suit his immense gifts. "Soul" dips into the golden soul songbook and emerges with a thoroughly enjoyable, if not challenging, album. To make sure everything was immaculate, Seal hauled in super-producer David Foster. Foster has spit and polished everyone from latter day Chicago to the pipes of Celine Dion. His wide-screen production makes everything shimmery smooth, with horns, strings and back-ups providing movie-soundtrack worthy bigness. Seal's gruff but velvety voice tackles the twelve songs here with gusto. Make no bones about it; "Soul" is a gold plated crowd pleaser, and really does sound like a labor of love for Seal.

My slight disappointment is that "Soul's" song selection is comprised of songs you'd likely hear two or three times a day on your local All Golden Oldies radio station. While Seal does pull a couple surprises out of the bag (Ann Peeble's "I Can't Stand The Rain" and Denice William's "Free"), he could have easily dug deeper than the done to death "Here I Am Come and Take Me" or "If You Don't Know Me By Now." Even with the safest material here, Seal's "Soul" makes for a pleasant interlude. My hope is that, having seen this album ride the charts for over a year, Seal will first make a new album of originals that suits his skills, and then make "Soul II" with a set list that dips into a deeper well.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Heart "Essential"

With Every Beat of The Heart, 5 Out of 5 Stars

With multiple record labels and more than a few best ofs already in their discography, it's fantastic to be able to get a set that covers all the bases in one strike. For Ann and Nancy Wilson, "The Essential Heart" does exactly that. From the early Dreamboat Annie on Mushroom Records to the long-term success on Portrait/CBS to their third wave on Capitol, all the major hits are here.

While they started as a "female Led Zepplin" when 70's power rockers picked up on "Crazy On You" and "Magic Man," Heart soon developed personality all their own. The angry bite of "Barracuda" contains one of the 70's all time great riffs, while Dog & Butterfly (both the album and the song) was a startlingly diverse rock album. But like most bands, when the superstar status lands, there's almost always tension. Heart was no different, and when the internal strife led to the lackluster success of Private Audition and Passionworks (despite such solid songs as "How Can I Refuse"), it seemed like Heart would soon wind down.

Against all odds, Heart signed with Capitol records and took a Bernie Taupin penned song back into the top ten. 1985's "These Dreams" (originally intended for Stevie Nicks and loaded with that same kind of vibe) kick-started yet another wave of success. Soon Heart became slick MTV faves, with big hair and big hits, but at a price. If you look at "The Essentials" second disc, you'll note that only two of the 19 songs were penned by Ann and Nancy. The trend that drove 80's bands like Aerosmith and Cheap Trick to - sometimes forcibly - cover songs by established songwriters like Dianne Warren ("Who Will You Run To"), Mutt Lange ("All I Wanna Do is Make Love To You") and Steinberg/Kelly ("Alone") gave Heart memorable hooky rock-pop, but backed them into a creative corner. After The Road Home, Ann and Nancy announced a sabbatical from which they have only recently come back from.

There's still plenty to love on this set, from some of the lesser-known hits ("Tell It Like It Is," "Heartless") to some choice album selections ("Ring Them Bells" with the late Layne Staley). By gathering all these songs onto one set, "The Essential Heart" is also an essential CD of a band that helped alter the sound of the 70's and 80's.

RIP Soupy Sales: In Honor of Saturday Morning Funnies

Do the Mouse!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The "Billionaires for Wealth Care" Punk/Protest an Insurance Lobbyist's Gathering

My Amazon Reviews: Regina Spektor "Far"

Far from ordinary, 4 Out of 5 Stars

Regina Spektor comes from the world of singer songwriters who aren't content to smooth out the wrinkles in their songs, but is content to let her quirks stand as part of her work. While it is noticeable that her skills have become more refined since her bid for mainstream acceptance (Soviet Kitsch), there's no way anyone will confuse "Far" with Brittany Spears. If there's anyone I'd compare Spektor to in recent memory, it would be Kate Bush or maybe Fiona Apple.

Spektor has the same somewhat left of center qualities as these artists, all while containing an endearing quality that is solely hers. "Far" is much of the piano based pop that fans have already become accustomed to (and I have to admit, only became addicted to when Begin to Hope's "Fidelity" was used in an Equality advertisement), like the clever-to-cute "The Calculation." She plays with her darker side on "Machine," while also finding emotional depth on the remarkable "Laughing With."

"No one laughs at God on the day they realize
that the last sight they'll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes.
No one's laughing at God
when they're saying their goodbyes."

And when you also consider that Spektor enlisted four producers, it's amazing just of seamless "Far" sounds. I had to check online to see who produced the particular tracks, which is a credit to the power of Spektor's personality and songwriting. That said, I really loved what Jeff Lynne did to "Blue Lips" and marveled at just how lovely Spektor sounds with an orchestra. Spektor is melodic, emotional, catchy, funny, innovative and beautiful...sometimes all inside the same song ("Eet"). She is one of those artists that you put the CD into the player and just let it play through, over and over. That's something you just can't say about too many artists nowadays.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sign of the Times and a Workplace Bummer

TLA Video closes rental location open for almost a quarter century.

My Amazon Reviews: Queensyche "Sign of the Times: The Best Of"

Fronting the Progressive March, 4 out of 5 Stars

Queensryche veered left in the 80's when all the other metal bands veered right; this Seattle rock troupe decided not to follow the then current leanings of Van Halen or Motley Crue, instead, the looked to Rush, Pink Floyd and the English wave of metal as signified by Iron Maiden. It made them something of a dark horse in 80's/90's metal; while they did become very successful, they're more underrated than recognized. "Sign Of The Times" covers Queensryche's EMI/Capitol records tenure and shows that the band had a solid, consistent run of albums. This best of starts off with some of Queensryche's earliest material "Queen Of The Reich." While it's nothing spectacular, it shows off the band's proclivity for old English power rock, along with lead singer Geoff Tate's Rob Halford/Ronnie James Dio vocal fireworks. But the growth the band sported throughout their career is obvious on the next track, the ominous Warning. It's on a par with some of Black Sabbath's best.

Nothing could have prepared fans for the breakthrough to come; a metal concept album about control, paranoia and government subterfuge, Operation: Mindcrime. A concrete rock-opera with songs that also worked separately, "Mindcrime" remains a classic album from the period. "Eyes of a Stranger" and "I Don't Believe In Love" from that album make it to this collection, and still sound terrific. The band now had critical and commercial cred to add to their rabid fanbase, so when "Empire" landed, it gave Queensryche both their biggest seller/charting album, as well as a hit single. "Silent Lucidity" was an oddity even for this group, a Pink Floydian lullaby that was highly original in that the band no had established themselves as a force in rock.

Unfortunately for the band, grunge took over the more fickle of the rock audience, and both the albums Promised Land and Hear in the Now Frontier took it on the chin. The band stayed with their guns and you can hear it on "Real World" and "Sign of the Times;" Queensryche didn't change their style just to keep commercially active. When these songs play in context within the rest of this best of, there's no jarring disconnect. "Sign of The Times" plays all the way through like a complete album. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo (on all cuts except the last two) could move between electric and acoustics and make then sound specific to the song, not always an easy thing to do in a hard rock band. He's the only member to have left the band, which helps explain this album's consistency.

"Sign of The Times" makes a strong case for Queensryche being held to the same praise as their contemporaries, Judas Priest, Led Zeppelin or even the more cerebral moments of Blue Öyster Cult or Rush. Maybe you don't know Queensryche from Mary Queen of Scots, but their best work stands as strong as some of their better known chart-mates of the time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When a Lifelong Rebuplican and WWII Vet can see it this clearly...

My Amazon Reviews: Emmylou Harris "All I Intended to Be"

All the Intentions Come Home, 4 Out Of 5 Stars

Emmylou Harris could - to paraphrase an overworked comment - sing the phonebook and she could make me sad. On her 2008 "All I Intended to Be," she digs in deep and follows a mournful track that is just pure Emmylou, teaming up with old collaborators like the McGarrigle sisters and her ex-husband/early producer Brian Ahern to make a fantastic album. As the pure country strains of "Shores of White Sand" give way to a lilting Celtic flute, you realize Emmylou has moved away from the Daniel Lanois atmospherics of the lovely Red Dirt Girl and back to the openness of traditional country.

"All I Intended To Be" stays the course with a mixture of Emmylou's original songs and a choice selection of covers from Merle Haggard, Patty Griffin and Tracy Chapman. Chapman's "All You Have Is Your Soul" (from her Crossroads) is one of the album's highlights. But for me, the clincher is Harris's own "Gold." Here, she invites Vince Gill and old Trio companion Dolly Parton to sing harmonies. The result is sublimely beautiful (and makes me wish for a return of the "Trio" for a third album). It's my favorite song on an album that surrounds the soul-pulling of sadness with strains of hope, and rates up among Emmylou Harris' best CD's.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Rosanne Cash "The List"

The Album Rosanne Cash Was Born to Make, 4 out of 5 Stars

Rosanne Cash has been building a steady and solid string of work since releasing Rules of Travel and Black Cadillac. On each of those records, she was hitting dreadful emotional patches (divorce on "Rules," the deaths of Johnny and June Carter Cash on "Cadillac") and channelling it through her music. Where the excellent "Cadillac" mourned her parents, "The List" moves to pay tribute. The story in the disc explains that in 1973, Johnny was upset that young Rosanne was unfamiliar with the country classics of yore and compiled a 100 song list of music he found essential. Rosanne saved that list for 35 years, and decided that now was the time to mine the source material her father had so much respect for.

"The List" comes up beautifully on all counts. Moving between Hank Williams and Bob Dylan with tasteful, spare backing (mostly husband John Leventhal working the one man band format), Cash invests these songs with her pure voice. She gets to her family by hitting "Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow," and follows her father's vision of Dylan on "Girl From The North Country." She doesn't reinterpret those so much as sculpt them to her voice and emotions. And while she also has a host of guests here, none of them overwhelm. In fact, Bruce Springsteen turns in an eerily echo of Johnny Cash when he sings along with Rosanne on "Sea Of Heartbreak."

The other singers, Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Rufus Wainwright don't do much more than shadow Rosanne; Tweedy and Wainwright are barely recognizable. "The List" belongs to Rosanne Cash. The temptation to bump this to five stars is hard to resist, as this feels like it will be on my list of favorites for the year, but "The List" is both what a cover/tribute album should be and one of Rosanne's personal bests.

Kitty Tech Support

I'm home with the flu today, but this made me smile.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Cheap Trick "Sgt Pepper Live"

Their Production Will be Second to None, 4 out of 5 Stars

Cheap Trick has never shied away from their love of The Beatles. From the early cover of "Day Tripper" to making "Magical Mystery Tour" to lone new cut on their original Greatest Hits CD, Robin Zander, Tom Peterssen, Bun E Carlos and Rick Nielsen could knock 'em out like nobody's business. But to recreate the landmark Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album as a live event, played from start to finish? That takes some Ernie Ball strings of steel.

The surprise is just how well Cheap Trick pulls this off. From the instantly familiar power of the opening chords to the fun Abbey Road encore medley, the band starts strong, works it hard and finishes solid. Guest performers Joan Osborne gives a twist to "Lovely Rita," and Rob Laugher channeling George Harrison for "Within You Without You" is one of many highlights here. The mandocello recreation of George's sitar here is jawdroppingly good.

The band and their pals all sound like they're having a blast doing this, but they're taking it dead serious, too. Geoff Emerick, The Beatles' original engineer, was brought in for the sound. The NY Philharmonic fleshes out the orchestral parts (along with Zander's vocals, you'll get goose bumps during "She's Leaving Home"). Almost all the musical intricacies of the original album are brought out (at least the ones that aren't sound effects, anyways), and Tom just flat-nails McCartney's bass parts. "Sgt Pepper Live" could have been a train wreck of pigpile proportions, but Cheap Trick makes it work. For a band that has long been out of the limelight (their 16th studio album, The Latest, is way better than you'd expect), "Sgt Pepper Live" avoids the pratfall of sounding like a cover band and shows that rock and reverence aren't always mutually exclusive.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Gin Blossoms "Outside Looking In: The Best Of"

Find Out About Them, 4 out of 5 Stars

For a band that only made two complete albums in their heyday, the Gin Blossoms still have an awesome legacy. As one of the many 90's bands that appeared in the jangle-pop rush after R.E.M. made the world safe for groups like this, "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You" seemed omnipresent and New Miserable Experience became a best seller. The band seemed to effortlessly combine the guitar of The Byrds with a rootsy sense of rocking. The effortlessness camouflaged serious issues in the band; chief writer Doug Hopkins' depression and drinking (which fed into the darkness's of the band's best lyrics) drove him to quit the band and ultimately commit suicide.

While his songwriting was missed on the follow-up album, Congratulations...I'm Sorry still had the hit "Follow You Down" and the snarky "Day Job" to show the Gin Blossoms might survive without him. But that was it, and the band folded soon after. "Outside Looking In" splits the albums and adds a soundtrack fave, "Til I Hear it From You," from the Empire Records Soundtrack. There's also a previously unreleased live track. "Whitewash." It's all the good stuff and a fine overview of a band that could have been contenders.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Rooney "Calling The World"

Putting the World on Notice, 4 out of 5 Stars

There's a lot of derivative fun to be taken from the second album from California popsters Rooney. They channel Weezer by way of Jellyfish with a weird dose of prog-rockers likeQueen or Electric Light Orchestra. Add the teeny-bopper good looks of Robert Schwartzman (Jason's younger bro and cousin to Nicholas Cage) and the sixties style cover pose, and you get a band that craves both the sugar and the success. "Calling The World" makes good on that intent.

Starting with the crafty title track, "Calling The World" delivers hooks so thick that this almost sounds like a greatest hits collection. "Are You Afraid" plays the processed vocals like "Mr Blue Sky," yet the guitar lines that open "What For" are pure George Harrison. Both "I Should Have Been After You" and the lead single "When Did Your Heart Go Missing" sound like they should have been in an 80's John Hughes movie. There's even a hint of Genesis or The Cars in "Love Me Or Leave Me," that is if either of those bands were fronted by George Michael.

There's so much sugar to be had on "Calling The World" that it eventually gets to be too much. The sense that Rooney needs an identity of its own starts to creep into the guilty pleasure of it all. Keane's Perfect Symmetry explored this territory a bit more effectively early in 2009, but if power-prog-pop is your candy of choice, "Calling The World" will give you a sugar-buzz like few others since Jellyfish or the long lamented Rubinoos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Yeal Naim "Yael Naim & David Donatien"

If Regina Spektor Was Israeli... 3 out of 5 Stars

...she'd be Yael Naim. Naim's American debut album works the same turf Spektor's Begin to Hope and Far does, or Feist's The Reminder. Clever and catchy piano songs with fragile arrangmemts that draw you in. The first hook is that she sings her songs in English, French and Hebrew. The second was Apple's Airbook latching itself to Naim's "New Soul" single.

There's one more big hooking to this CD, and it's Naim's screwed down version of "Toxic." Naim takes one on Brittany Spear's signature songs and slows it down to a creepy lament. On an album that is filled with prettiness and airy folk-lite songs in foreign languages, "Toxic" is a shock. "New Soul" is still the best song (and most obvious hit) on the album, though.

That lack of obviousness will limit the appeal of "Yael Naim" to world music fans and hipsters who will take a smug irony is claiming Hebrew language songs are theirs. And those who came to Naim via Apple Adverts. But for fans of world pop who might have some David Broza in the player, you'll like her just fine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This is what Gay Bashing looks like

Everyone should be very, very pissed and send this to thier elected officials, ministers and anyone else they can think of.

My Amazon Reviews: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss "Raising Sand"

Pounding Sand, 3 Out of 5 Stars

T-Bone Burnette has that Appalachian blues dirge thing down. Hollow sounding bass, haunting strings and guitars, thudding drums...all atmosphere and no mass. And despite all the critical raves, he's manages to turn one of rock's most massive vocalists and one of bluegrass's most substantive singers into wispy tendrils of folkish fog. "Raising Sand" is a very average album from a pair of people who rarely fall short of greatness, from a producer who has his title listed on some of my all time favorites.

I'm not sure why this trio of people decided to make a CD comprised on mostly down-tempo dirges, but that's what you get. Only on the Everly Brothers' "Gone Gone Gone" does "Raising Sand" give a hint that roots music can be roots rocking. And Krauss' fiddle playing is only used to solid effect on "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us." "Sister Rosetta" actually haunts in a realistic way, as opposed the Burnette's forced period-production manipulation. I wanted a little Zep roar to appear, instead, Plant coos and moans a lot. Nothing takes flight.

When the songs work, one at a time, they're great. "Rich Woman," "Trampled Rose" and even the Led Zep cover "Please Read The Letter" highlight what "Raising Sand" could have been. But the entire album plods along in dire need of a little moonshine kick. It makes me wish Krauss, Plant and T-Bone had given a listen to T-Bone's work on the likes of King of America, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams or even How Will the Wolf Survive?. Some adrenaline would have lifted "Raising Sand" to something far better that this mediocre offering.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ready for my close-up, 2009

The latest DVD that I have a small role in is now listed for sale. From Paul Bright, the writer/director of Theft (which I also have a small speaking role in) and Angora Ranch, comes an ironic action adventure movie about a reluctant gay hero who survives kidnapping, a tarantula attack, a den of rattlesnakes and a homicidal boss to rescue his grandmother from drug crazed maniacs. I play the Mob Boss who is very upset that his underlings are not getting the job done due to Aaron’s interference.

You can pre-book Aaron...Albeit a Sex Hero by clicking through the cover-art!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wow...a politician with a spine attatched to his brain!

My Amazon Reviews: KISS "Sonic Boom"

Let's Put the 'X' in sexagenarian!, 4 out of 5 Stars

From the Rock and Roll Over inspired cover art to the bonus disc of re-recorded "Kiss Klassics," Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (the along with painted faces of Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer), "Sonic Boom" wants you to party like it's 1976. The good news is that the album is pretty darn good considering the band's age. Hearing Gene sing "maybe it's time to take off your clothes!" at age 60 (from "Yes I Know") is kind of silly. At the same time, "Sonic Boom" packs as much punch as the last truly decent KISS album, Revenge. "Stand" could easily be a KISS Koncert anthem.

One also needs to remember that the members of KISS are really, and I mean really, wealthy. In a USA Today article of the day "Sonic Boom" was released, Gene bragged about being worth $100,000,000. So it's not like he and Stanley have anything to prove musically. With that, the album delivers all you'd expect from a rock album rooted in the seventies. There's sleazy sexism ("Yes I Know" and "Hot and Cold"), power rock anthems ("Say Yeah," "Stand" and "All For The Glory") and some serious rocking on "Modern Day Delilah." I even dig the goofy pun Stanley came up with when he barks "Danger you, danger me....dangerrrrrr-us!" Amazingly, it all works.

It works even better if you imagine that it's 1978 and Love Gun was in the cassette box along with Live, Van Halen and The Grand Illusion on your car seat. If that was you, "Sonic Boom" will take you back. The bonus disc will also bother you. While it sounds like a dress rehearsal for the new tour, the new band doing note-for-note recreations of most of the major Kiss Katalog (even the Michael Bolton/Paul Stanley ballad "Forever") is going to remind you that these guys are getting up there. "Christine Sixteen" sounds horrible re-sung, and one of the best things about the original trio of albums was the gritty hunger that clawed out of the speakers when you first discovered Hotter Than Hell or Deuce. Maturity doesn't re imagine these songs well.

Given the bonus CD isn't the big reason for picking up "Sonic Boom," well, it's worth a deuce to buy it. For guys eligible for their AARP cards and still kicking out, the album helps put the "X" is sexagenarian.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Giovanni’s Room, Philadelphia & Lambda Literary Foundation to host fundraising Read-a-thon

On Saturday November 21, 2009, Giovanni’s Room and the Lambda Literary Foundation will be hosting a Read-a-thon fundraiser at Giovanni’s Room bookstore in Philadelphia. On the two floors of the historic bookstore, twenty LGBT authors will read from their works, answer questions and sign books. Authors to read include: Steve Berman, S. Renee Bess, Perry Brass, Tim Brough, Victoria Brownworth, Rob Byrnes, David Carter, Cheril N. Clarke, Jim Gladstone, Ken Harvey, Livia Lllewellyn, Bobbi Marolt, Mark Merlis, Thom Nickles, Radclyffe, Paul Russell, Eddie Sarfaty, Scott Sherman, Brian Sloane and Bob Smith. (While all the authors have confirmed; this list is subject to change.) “For those who love reading, the art of words and books, this will be an evening to remember.” said Scott Cranin, Lambda board member and event organizer.

100% of the proceeds from tickets sales will be donated to the two sponsors. The suggested donation is $50 and tickets are available at: Giovanni’s Room, 12th & Pine Sts and all four TLA Video stores (15th & Locust, 4th & South, Chestnut Hill & Bryn Mawr).

Tickets are also available by mail. Enclose your check made to “Lambda Literary Foundation” and send to:

Scott Cranin, TLA Entertainment Group, 234 Market St, 4th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106

The event begins on Saturday November 21, 2009 at 7:30PM and is expected to run till 10pm. Wine and snacks will be served.

The Lambda Literary Foundation is dedicated to raising the status of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people throughout society by rewarding and promoting excellence among LGBT writers who use their work to explore LGBT lives. The Foundation sponsors the annual Lambda Book Awards and an annual writer’s workshop, now entering its third year. Visit for more information.

Giovanni’s Room, located at 12 & Pine Sts in Center City Philadelphia, is the oldest LGBT bookstore in the US. The store is faced with a financial challenge as the front wall of their historic structure is being replaced. The queer community of Philadelphia, rather than lose their cherished bookstore, is organizing fund-raising events through the fall to ensure the store’s survival. Visit for store information and other fundraising events.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Breaking Benjamin "Dear Agony"

Don't Want to Change the World, Just Want to Leave it Colder, 4 out of 5 Stars

One of the best of the current crop of hard rock bands, Breaking Benjamin pen another morbid love letter to "Dear Agony." After the platinum successes of Phobia and We Are Not Alone, most bands would try to keep cloning their past efforts and go for the big pop single. Fortunately, BB chart their own course. The lead release, "I Will Not Bow," may be tagged to a Hollywood blockbuster (Surrogates), but it's no sappy "Top Gun" type of ballad. It's all guitar crunch and minor key hook, with Ben Burnley scowling "fall" in that cookie-monster growl of his.

Burnley is also one of the neat things about BB. He's a lead singer that exudes charisma (the "I Will Not Bow" video really plays off his looks), and he offers the band his lyrical power. The man has some dark obsessions; as I noted on a review of "Phobia," there's a lot of death and dying in his defiance. Put Aaron Fink's rumbling guitar underneath that sentiment, and you get some bone-crunching music ("Fade Away").

That's not to say they aren't sensitive guys. They bring a string section on board for the "Anthem of The Angels" and closing "Without You." There's also the astonishing "What Lies Beneath." "Dear Agony" runs solid from thunderous beginning to string saturated end, an album you can play all the way through. It may be "Agony," but then again, there's no gain without pain. And Ben Burnley loves to bring the pain.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pick Up David Stein's New Books!

Shameless Commerce Dept: The covers will link directly to my website for those who'd like to own a copy of these books. They were a hit at both the Folsom Street Fair and at The MsC in Washington DC.

In 1996, in the 14th issue of the long gone Magazine "International Leatherman," David Stein guest edited and produced a volume that was strictly about real life Master and slave couples. Oddly enough, it was not one of the magazine's better selling volumes (frankly, no jo stories...), but it soon became a highly sought collector's issue. It laid out, in detail, that these folks not only existed, but they were RARELY similar.

Over 10 years later, David revisits this idea on "Ask The Man Who Owns Him." While the criterion for inclusion in this book is similar (gay male couples identifying as M/s in relationships for at least 3 years), the couples profiled are anything but. There's polyamory, monogamy, strict protocols, deep spirituality, deep division. They live together, they're separated by state lines. They self identify in all manner of 'title.' Some came into their relationships naturally, others evolved, some were seeming thrust into them. These pairings are everything but interchangeable.

Yet for so many fetish fantasists, all M/s relationships are invariable. Even David's own highly recommended Carried Away: An S/M Romance is still fiction. Such assorted hogwash as "Mr. Benson," "The Story of O," et al give distorted views that can't sustain a real world challenge. "Ask The Man Who Owns Him" does a great deal to dispel the mythology that has too long lingered around true practitioners of this life, who invited David Stein and David Schachter into their homes and personal worlds. This book is NOT someone telling you they know what you want and how to get it. This book reclaims the fringe that - in some circles - would portray these folk as outlaw sexualists.

Even as the men (and in a few cases here, women) would probably snort at that 'outlaw' description, there is one thing that "Ask The Man Who Owns Him" does show as a common denominator. Each of the men that have bonded in these relationships truly care about each other. Be their references Master, slave, owner, property or however they refer to themselves, they are all couples. They're all for real. It's the reality portrayed by "Ask The Man That Owns Him" that makes the book invaluable.

 In "Boots, Bondage and Beatings," David turns his atention to short stories in this burning collection. Each of the stories centers on one of more of the B's in the book's title, be it an erotic tale or a psychologically compelling one. My personal favorite was the slave trainer showing his young charge that it's not all about hot sex and searing sessions, it is about service and the mindset. There's even a pair of stories that serve as adjuncts to "Carried Away." Solid, thoughtful and arousing, a good book for the black leather bookshelf. David was kind enough to request a foreword from me, which I was honored to contribute.

Clicking on the covers will take you to my website, where those inclined can purchase these (and other) kinky titles.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Seven Year Itch

Last night, Joel and I celebrated our 7th anniversary. It hardly seems that long, but so much has happened that it also seems like a lifetime. We celebrated by hitting Outback for steaks and a Blooming Onion. I surprised him with flowers, and we shared the fruits of his favorite new toy, a home-made ice cream machine. First successful flavor; Rum Raisin. Yum. The picture was us when we were just getting to know each other in 2002.

Then we took in Saturday Night Live. I was a bit brought down to see that President Obama's lack of activity has reached SNL, with the opening sketch being a biting rundown of the first year campaign promises not yet achieved. Hell, Fred Armistead barely even bothered with his dead-on campaign impersonation of Obama. He just looked like Fred with a short wig. The skit would have been funnier had it not been so sadly on target.

Sunday was a day for both of us to catch up on projects. We are both taking classes and each have homework. This is something I am not used to! I also needed to do an update to my website ( to add David Stein's two new books for sale. (There will be a fresh post on that soon.) Joel and I took a break to watch a low-key gay thriller, "The Night Listener." Robin Williams can still give good creepy, but the movie was a bit too drawn out for my tastes.

Tomorrow, back to work and class.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Jupiter One "Sunshowers"

"Lighter than air in the Sun Shower"
4 out of 5 Stars

This is my first encounter with Jupiter One, and this is the sophomore effort. You'll be excused if you find yourself thinking you're listening to The Shins as that band exercised a Beatles/Beach Boys fetish, but that is what "Sunshowers" sounds like. It's lighter than air and rich with harmonies, and often catchy. If every band could write a song as cool as "Anna," the world would be better place. The quality stay consistent throughout, tickling the usual angsty subjects (young love, urgency, desire -Tears for Fears came to my mind at various points during this CD).

There's a dreamy essence to a lot of the music here, and at times the new wave gives way to some folkiness. This is especially true on the closing "People In The Mountain," where the glistening strings bring the album to a satisfying close. The five members of "Jupiter One" seems to be bringing in different personality traits and making sure that "Sunshower" doesn't get too homogeneous. The funk of "Simple Stories" comes from one voice, the playing with fire metaphors of "Flaming Arrow" another. The orchestral pop of "High Plains Drifter" teases the psychedelic world beautifully. While not bombastic or hyper-dynamic, "Sunshower" is a breezy delight. To me, it's no surprise that they'd be touring with Regina Spektor, whose Far shares many of this album's best qualities.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Muse "The Resistance"

Resistance is Futile! 4 out of 5 Stars

"Fight The Power" is the theme to the new Muse album, the set that should finally make the superstars in the USA. Matt Bellamy and crew have delivered on the promise of their deliriously cool Black Holes and Revelations, opting to strike with the old fashioned concept album.

Our hero of "The Resistance" starts off the album shouting "They will not control us! We will be victorious" to a very We Will Rock You Theatrical beat during "Uprising." He rages against the machine and wonders if it's all worth it without love (the title track) before giving in to love ("I want to reconcile the violence in your heart," he coos) on "Undisclosed Desires." You likely know where all this is headed, but you'll still be surprised. There's plenty of defiant cries like "I want the truth!" or "I've traveled half the world to say I love you." sprinkled throughout "The Resistance," yet Muse makes it all sound fresh and fun again.

But then there's the coup d'grace. The three part mini-symphony "Exogenesis" would do proud by both Yes or Queen or even Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Rich on the Mozart and the prog, this just pushes Muse into a whole new world. Bellamy, bassist and backing vocalist Christopher Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard can now soar as high as they'd like. "The Resistance" is the mark of a band that refuses to set limits; Muse are capably now blending rock, funk, progressive, alternative and classical in the scope of one CD. You can't fight it.

Folsom Pictures with Gallery Link