Monday, November 30, 2009

My Amazon Movie Reviews: "The Men Who Stare at Goats"

Baa bah, Said the Goat,
3 out of 5 Stars

An uneven buddy caper that rides mainly on the abilities of its impeccable casting, "The Men Who Stare At Goats" takes a seriously weird moment in military stupidity and pokes gentle fun at it. There was once a New Earth Army (called The First Earth Battalion) that the CIA experimented with as a Psychic Warfare Operation. What should have you irritated about a waste of your tax dollars gets spoofed into a Hollywood movie. So much for the "liberal media," right?

As such, it's still a good time waster. Milquetoast journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) wants to prove to his ex-wife that he's an exciting man, so he talks his way into an Iraqi reporter position. It is there where he bumbles into the Special Forces Operator, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), whom Bob once referenced in a story about psychic warfare. Soon Bob convinces Lyn to take him along on his mission, and Lyn's intermittent explanations about the New Earth Army appears in anecdotal bits, often very humorously.

The supporting cast makes up for the slowness of the overall film, with Jeff Bridges leading the pack as Bill Django, the best of the psychic warriors. Stephen Lang steals the show in just a few scenes as somewhat loopy Brigadier General Dean Hopgood. Kevin Spacey is fine as the creepy trouble maker Larry Hooper, but you've seen him do this a million times and his character here has nothing new to offer. And finally, Robert Patrick is a hoot as contractor at large Todd Nixon, appearing for no apparent reason but still amusing. "The Men Who Stare At Goats" is episodic, and that's its main drag. It never seems to find its footing, and the ending is contrived.

The original non-fiction book detailed disturbing and often hilarious interviews with men who would tell journalist Jon Ronson about the real attempts Presidents Reagen and Bush 2 put into creating these regiments. But as the movie sputters into its final act and all Jon/Bob gets out of his reports is either ignored or mocked, its a bit frustrating to watch the movie of his work walk the wire between reality and the farcical so unevenly.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: BoDeans "Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams"

Still Surviving on the Street,
4 Out of 5 Stars

Back in 1985/86, Slash Records seemed to be on the brink of starting a whole new American Breed of Rockers. They had new albums and new bands from Los Lobos to The Blasters to The Bodeans. They all got sort of lumped into the 'new wave' category, but there was something more going on here. "Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams" was one of the best embodiments of this group of bands, and reissue, almost 25 years after the fact, shows why.

The Bodeans were young and enthusiastic kids who wanted to make their own sound. Being from Wisconsin, they has no burning desire to be trendy or fashionable, just to make music that felt like escape to them. With the first thrilling notes of "She's A Runaway" and the rocking theme of breakout the song offers, it's an instant classic that should have slotted in comfortably next to the Springsteen or Mellencamp hits of the day. T-Bone Burnette heard the truth inside the songs and the vocal magic Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas made, and hauled them away to Los Angeles to make this album.

"Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams" is a missing link of an album, the chain the runs between The Everly Brothers and The Rolling Stones (from whom the album nicked its title). The remaster sounds incredible. The BoDeans were still fresh and excited, with T-Bone at the top of his early production game. "Rickshaw Riding" has sudden space in its slowbreathing sound. "Looking for Me Somewhere" sounds like Johnny Cash passed on it to hand it over to these youngsters. And the bonus track "Turn Your Radio On" makes you wonder why this Chuck Berry-ish rocker got left behind.

The there's the DVD, a homecoming of sorts with a live Minneapolis concert from 1985. Again, there's this brash enthusiasm that only a hungry young band could muster, and it's great fun to watch. It's east to see why (if you believe Kurt's liner notes) the T-Bone urged the suits at Warners to sign The Bodeans because "they're gonna be bigger than The Beatles." It includes songs that never made it to the studio albums done in front of a hometown audience, excited that their local heroes just might be the next big thing. "Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams" captures that desire, and this re-issue - from the good folks at Rhino - makes you scratch your head as to why it didn't happen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Wolfmother "Cosmic Egg"

Savage Hatchlings,
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Andrew Stockdale had the proverbial "artistic differences" with his old Wolfmother mates, so after the international success of the debut Wolfmother CD, he picks up a new bassist and drummer...and then makes an album that sounds almost exactly like the first. if you revelled in the 70's thud and crunch of that one, you're going to be in Van Heaven when you get hold of "Cosmic Egg."

The influences are all still there, be they the Zepplin stuttering of "White Feather" or the Deep Purple organ that wells up from "In The Castle." And like before, you get the feeling Jack White/The Raconteurs have been in the boys' CD players. "Cosmic Egg" is a big guitar album, filled with dirty riffs, down-tuned chording and wah-wah racket (love that bent sound on "Pilgrim").

Even the cover art and album title harken back to a hazier day. The lyrics occasionally slip into hippie-mysticism ("California Queen") and Hendrixian Guitar Utopias (the six minute "Violence Of The Sun"), but Wolfmother never fall into boredom. "Cosmic Egg" will make you hope they stay on this track and wonder if the next album cover will be a Frazetta painting.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Thomas Dolby "The Golden Age of Wireless" Remastered!

Scientific Upgrade,
5 out of 5 Stars

If you're reading this, you probably know that "The Golden Age Of Wireless" was an amazing moment in the budding synthesizer new wave explosion. As anyone into the instrument could have told you at the time, Thomas Dolby was not just an incredible synth player; he had an amazing sense of keyboard construction and compositional skills. His credits before his solo career included Lena Lovich, Bruce Woolley and The Camera Club and (gasp) Foreigner! (Those are his keyboard washes that grace their classic "Foreigner 4" and the hit "Waiting For a Girl Like You.") So it wasn't like Dolby's debut came without a pedigree.

But the original "The Golden Age Of Wireless" album came with completely different cover art, different running order, a much better mix of "Radio Silence" and two other songs, "Urges" and "Leipzig." To this day, I'd been fascinated by both versions of the album and CD, and I kept wondering why, in this age when everything is being remastered, remixed and re-issued, this classic album hadn't been mined for the deluxe treatment? Finally, I get (most of) my wish.

The "guitar mix" of "Radio Science" is back as a bonus track. "Leipzig" and "Urges" have returned from oblivion (or "Retrospectacle"). Another lesser known instrumental, "The Wreck of The Fairchild," is now back on the CD. The remastering is nothing short of incredible, highlighting Dolby's arrangements and the wide-screen depth to his production. There's 4 new bonus demos to add to the running time, although I would have preferred the extended versions from the "She Blinded Me With Science" EP of the "Science," single, "Windpower," "Flying North" and "Submarines." Add Dolby's track by track notations for yet another reason to get this.

The bonus DVD is a curio, a concert film from 1983 of Dolby live with little vignettes interspersed. The real treat is Lene Lovich dropping in to perform "New Toy," but I doubt I'll be re-watching this often. If you want the videos of the singles, they can be found on the recently issued The Singular Thomas Dolby.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Pet Shop Boys "Yes"

Yes, Actually
4 out of 5 Stars

Following the politically charged Fundamental finds the Pet Shop Boys pulling in the reigns a bit to mine more familiar territory. This is danceable synth-pop that is the Boys' stock in trade since the 80's, but with the maturity of men who have seen trends and styles come and go, yet weathered the changes. "More Than a Dream" could have been lifted from the likes of Behavior until you hear that refrain that says "I believe that we can change, we can make it more than a dream." So while the politics of the last album were right up front, they haven't disappeared completely.

They are also feeling expansive about love these days. "King of Rome" is about the loneliness of need, and the opening "Love Etc" harkens back to the gold standard of Very. A smile may pop up as Tchaikovsky peeks through on You'll be able to dance to "Did You See Me Coming" and "Pandemonium." And then you can marvel at the symphonic quirkiness within "Legacy." "Yes" is a good Pet Shop Boys disc, once more proving that Neil Tennent and Chris Lowe still can make us smile and dance...and think about what we're listening to. One of my favorites of 2009.

Keeping America Stupid: Colorado Division

Click Picture for full story.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Jonas Brothers "Lines, Vines and Trying Times"

Bauble Gum,
3 out of 5 Stars

I really liked the previous Jonas Brothers album, A Little Bit Longer. The kids seemed to be letting out all their adolescent rock fantasies and made a power pop album worthy of comparisons to Cheap Trick or The Raspberries. But this time, they seem to be hedging their bets. Like all great teen idols, they know the half-life on their fans' attention is a short one, so aiming for a mature sound was bound to happen. The sad part is the unintended consequences.

While I love the occasional snappiness of a good bubblegum record, this time "Line Vines and Trying Times" ditches the snappiness in favor of too much polish. There's more bauble than bubble here, and that's not a good thing. Instead of letting the guitars crunch to the front of the song, horns and strings crowd to the fore on almost every song. These songs sound more like TV commercials than teen-rock, more like Las Vegas show-tunes than 'Hello Cleveland!' arena ready singles. There's even the now obligatory country-crossover ballad, a duet with fellow Disney Kid Miley Cyrus. Rapper Common adds to the ridiculous "Don't Charge Me For The Crime."

There's far too many forced attempts at relevancy here, when they were doing just fine with the candy-floss. Remember when Shaun Cassidy tried to get serious by recording with Todd Rundgren and covering David Bowie and Ian Hunter? The album was called WASP and was such a commercial disaster that it's never even been released on CD. When the Jonas Brothers start trying to pass themselves off as 'serious,' I keep wondering how long it will be before they end up making something similar. The JB's "World War III" and "Paranoid" have the goods, but the rest of the album just tries way too hard.

So...when did Sting become such a bear?

Promoting his new Holiday album, Sting becomes....

"the bed's too big without you....."

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Monsters of Folk "Debut"

Monsters Folk The World,
4 Out of 5 Stars

In one of the more unlikely combos since Tinted Windows came out this year, Jim James (or as he has taken to calling himself, Yim Yames) of My Morning Jacket, blues/folkie M Ward and Dylanesque folk-monger Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes have teamed up to mingle their overlapping tastes for this album. Add producer and Bright Eyes multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, and you get a thoroughly enjoyable folk album that draws on each members' individual bests.

I got to see the Monsters on tour at Philadelphia's Academy of Music and was astonished at just how well these guys blended together. Oberst is probably the closest thing to an old-school folkie of the bunch, with Ward being more a blues singer and James adding a southern accent to MMJ's psychedelic pop-rock. When they unleash a traditional folk song like "Man Named Truth," they hit everything dead center. James brings in the Neil Young school of other-worldliness, used best on the closing "His Master's Voice" or the The Grateful Dead sound-alike "The Right Place." Ward leads on "Slow Down Jo" and the others add harmonies that hold up the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young comparisons that have been tossed at this album.

That kind of hype is a bit unfair to the band, as the Monsters don't seem to have an agenda like CSN did, and "The Travelling Folkberries" seems more apt. There's plenty of great moments here, like "Map Of The World," "Say Please" and the previously mentioned songs. But there's also the occasional trip-up, like the pretentious opener, "Dear God," or the tossed off sounding "Goodway." But again, when they hit the bulls-eye, this is some top-flight stuff. And I have to add, after seeing him playing live, Jim James is a real monster...on guitar. Even more so than the denseness of his MMJ albums reveals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Thomas Dolby "The Flat Earth" Remastered!

After The Gold Rush,
5 out of 5 Stars

Boy, was I glad I hung on to my original CD from 1985. Along with "The Golden Age Of Wireless," these first two Thomas Dolby titles were among the earliest CD's I ever purchased. At the time of the first listen to the vinyl album of "The Flat Earth," I was a tad disappointed that Dolby's professed love of Joni Mitchell (whom he soon would produce - see "Dog Eat Dog") had led to an album loaded with extremely moody and low key songs. There were a lot more traditional instruments involved with the making of "The Flat Earth," which wasn't really what I was expecting. With the exception of "Hyperactive," which sounded like a "Wireless" leftover, "The Flat Earth" barely sounded like the quirky kid we'd fallen in love with on the first album.

Still, the album had a certain jazzy depth that I kept coming back to. Maybe I didn't love it on the first listen. Or the second, or for that matter, the third. But by the end of the first week, I was hooked. I think side one of the original album became glued to my turntable for the remainder of the summer of 1984, as the intrigue of "Dissidents," the sensitivity of the title track and the lonely alienation of "Screen Kiss" kept me enthralled. I was fortunate to win a CD player in a radio contest a year later and found this disc in the racks....and it's not left my library since.

I have since become enamored of Dolby's interpretation of Dan Hick's "I Scare Myself" to the point that I prefer it over the original. I also still can find myself bouncing along to "The White City," which took some flack at the time for what many perceived as a drug reference. What actually stopped me from a full-on five star recommendation on the original CD was the reason I originally purchased the LP..."Hyperactive" actually sounds so out of place here that it robs "The Flat Earth" of that elusive fifth star for me. But don't let that stop you. If you're a fan of "Avalon" by Roxy Music or "Hats" by the Blue Nile, you'll probably be glad "The Flat Earth" is back and remastered.

As to that remaster job, it's fantastic. For a change, "remaster" doesn't mean "made louder," it means the CD was cleaned up, given better definition, given more detail. The scratchy trumpet on "I Scare Myself" is even more haunting. The bass on "Hyperactive!" snaps even more than before, as does "The White City." Dolby contributes new liner notes and info about the original songs and the eight extras. The bonus tracks include the original re-mix for "Dissidents" and 7 more songs...and for a change, most of them are worth hearing! There's one song that had never even been recorded, the live "Marseille." Add a couple of hard to find soundtrack items from "Howard the Duck" and "Gothic," and this version of "The Flat Earth" maintains its reputation as Dolby's moody masterpiece.

Otter Puppy Love

If it got any cuter, my cat would eat it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: The J. Geils Band "Best Of"

Not Quite a Full House
4 out of 5 Stars

When The J. Geils Band made the leap from Atlantic Records to Capitol/EMI, the hits started coming and the band suddenly became superstars. This best of compiles mainly from those years, and is heavy on the party hits the band had in the 80's. It nicely replaces Flashback and supplements Best of the J. Geils Band from the late 70's.

The good stuff/hits are here. The streak that started with "Love Stinks" and exploded with Freeze Frame are covered. The party classics "Centerfold" and "Flamethrower" are both here, along with many others. The old greasy bar band is represented by "Sanctuary" and "Night Time." But if you're looking for "Must Of Got Lost" or "Give It To Me," you'll have to go back to the Atlantic best of. I am also a bit disappointed that the band's one album minus Peter Wolf, You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd, and its terrific single, "Concealed Weapons," have seemingly been thrown into history's dust-heap.

But at 13 songs with a couple great semi-hits ("Angel In Blue" and "Come Back"), I'm OK with this album. The old-school gritty R'n'B that gave the band their start can still be had for 70's enthusiasts, but this best of still finds Wolf, J.Geils' guitar and magic Dick's harmonica a wicked blast from the past.

Cat With A Uniform Fetish!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Join me Saturday for The Philadelphia GLBT Read-A-Thon

Sat, November 21, 2009
7:30pm - 10:00pm
Giovanni's Room [345 S 12TH St, Philadelphia, PA]
Cover: $25 suggested

CHARITY: 50% to Lambda Literary Foundation, 50% to Giovanni's Room

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 $25 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).

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.

For more information contact: Scott Cranin - - 215-622-3141

The Lambda Literary Foundation & Giovanni’s RoomPresent aRead-a-thon fundraiserNineteen authors will read including:Radclyffe, Paul Russell, Mark Merlis, Rob Byrnes Bob Smith, Scott Sherman Malinda Lo & more7:30 pm Saturday November 21, 2009 -- Giovanni’s Room, 12th & Pine St, Philadelphia, PASuggested donation $25 (any donation is welcome;from $.01+) -- Tickets at the door

1st floor reading schedule

  • Mark Hardy -- 7:30
  • Scott Sherman -- 7:45
  • David Carter -- 8:00
  • Paul Russell -- 8:15
  • Rob Byrnes -- 8:30
  • Mark Merlis -- 8:45
  • Bob Smith -- 9:00
  • Ken Harvey -- 9:15
  • Bill Konigsberg -- 9:30
  • Perry Brass -- 9:45

2nd floor reading schedule

  • Thom Nickels -- 7:30
  • Livia Llewellyn -- 7:45
  • Victoria Brownworth -- 8:00
  • Steve Berman -- 8:15
  • Radclyffe -- 8:30
  • Malinda Lo -- 8:45
  • S. Renee Bess -- 9:00
  • Bobbi Marolt -- 9:15
  • Tim Brough -- 9:30

My Amazon Reviews: Devo Remastered!

Devo's "Q Are We not Men?" and "Freedom of Choice" - 5 out of 5 Stars

The mere fact that, 30 years on, "Q: Are We Not Men" and "Freedom of Choice" still sound fresher and more ground breaking than anything the new millennium has yet to offer should tell you already just how essential these CDs are. Be that as it may, the Men From Akron had a vision about the future of rock and a very twisted view about entertaining people. They came up with their delightfully automatonic stage show, complete with modified instruments and heavy on the keyboards, the goofy yellow uniforms and most importantly, the highly ironic worldview that, no matter how hard you tried, the world was going to hell in reverse gear.

The DEVO world jerked like a factory line machine that twitched like carbonated hormones inbred with misfired Chuck Berry licks. How else could their version of "Satisfaction" have ever been born if not for white guy frustration in an increasingly machinated world? To wit: "Mongoloid" is a man who is no different than the men who "wore a hat, had a job, and he brought home the bacon." The heroine of "Come Back Jonee" grieves for the boyfriend who wanted to become a rock legend but "ran head on into a semi, the guitar's all that's left now."

No matter how you view this, it is still a perfect merger of discontent, vision, and Brian Eno's skillful coloring of Devo's earlier hardcore leanings. The dramatic amount of subtleties in the production are heightend by the remaster, which is just fantastic. The visual sense that DEVO embodied helped turn the spudboys into stars, but with "Q: Are We Not Men?" however, DEVO crafted a musical statement for the ages. This reissue also contains the album as a full length bonus London concert from May 2009.

I was so into DEVO that, at my college graduation, I had an energy dome to put on my head after I received my diploma. I was completely taken in by how skillfully the band deconstructed the typical rock and roll preconceptions and virtually invented a style. This is, along with "Q: Are We Not Men," the Devo album that integrates the band's theories on De-evolution most completely to the music. With the addition of the "Dev-O Live" EP, It's perfection plus. (PS. The full-length Dev-O Live concert from which the Ep was taken can be found here.)

"Freedom Of Choice" was where DEVO's world-view was overtaken by a case of pop-smarts. By 1980, all sorts of new-wave trademark-sounding cheap synths had become both widely available and more reliable, so the sound of the keyboards and guitars could mesh into a recordable (and more controlled) whole. DEVO's synths on "F.O.C." had moved almost entirely to the fore, and there was an obvious attempt at more disciplined song writing.

That discipline showed most obviously on "Girl You Want" and "Gates Of Steel." The very un-devoish longing in "Girl You Want" was universal enough to have found its way into the set lists of artists ranging from Soundgarden to Robert Palmer. The title track mocks how submissive we are when it comes to culture/consumer manipulation, while "Whip It" strings together a catalog of catch phrases and self-help mantras into a cracking (pun intended) three minute anthem. On the side of human conditions, "Mr. B's Ballroom" cocks its DEVO-eyes at the kind of hole-in-the-wall establishment where best friends drink and start fights before crashing through the plate glass door. (Likely while "Whip It" is playing on the jukebox.)

Just as important, this album (and its videos) is probably how most people measure their knowledge of DEVO by. "Whip It" became the kind of song that college new-wave parties did the pogo to, and corporate rallies would chant along with as a morale enhancer. By making synthesizer rock safe for frat boys, "Freedom Of Choice" is easily the second of DEVO's crowning albums. And as on the new version of "Q: Are We Not Men?" the remastering makes this album absolutlely sparkle.

Monday, November 16, 2009

More Blows to Gay Print Media

From JoeMyGod:

Publisher Of Washington Blade And Other LGBT Print Titles Shuts Down

This weekend I noticed that the websites of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and several other titles published by Window Media had not been updated in a few days. Just now, Southern Voice posted this message to their Facebook fan page:

With deepest regret, as editor of SoVo, I have to tell you that we arrived at the office to learn that our parent company, Window Media, has shut down. While the 20 years of SoVo have come to an end, our civil rights movement is only beginning. I am personally grateful to all of the staff, and to all of you who have had the courage to share your stories. It has been the honor of my life to help you tell them.Among the affected titles are the weekly newspapers Washington Blade, Southern Voice, South Florida Blade and the bar guides David Magazine and 411 Magazine. (Earlier this year, Window Media ceased publishing Genre Magazine.) Window Media's primary investor, the Avalon Equity Fund, has been in receivership over a loan from the Small Business Administration.

This is a terrible loss. In particular, the Washington Blade has been an invaluable resource for important coverage of LGBT legislation news out of the nation's capital. This and most LGBT news blogs have relied on the Washington Blade for timely reporting on issues not always covered by the mainstream media. The question now is whether anybody will step forward to rescue any of these publications. Let's cross our fingers.

UPDATE: The Washington Blade has confirmed its demise via Twitter.

My Amazon Reviews: Bette Midler "Jackpot! - The Best Bette"

Juggling the Divine,
4 out5 Stars

To be an artist that can jump from style to style and genre to genre is a rarity in any medium. And in this day and age, it's consider a surefire career snuffer. Which makes Bette Midler a national treasure. She has wrapped her pipes around popular standards, bawdy bathhouse songs, sentimental ballads and - in the process - created a few standards of her own. While "Jackpot! - The Best Bette" nicely replaces Experience the Divine, it isn't a perfect set.

There are 19 songs here, but the emphasis is on the sentimental. It would have been nice to let some of Bette's naughtier moments pop in (even a routine from the out of print Mud Will Be Flung Tonight). I'm also not so sure listing the tracks out of chronological order helps with the listening experience, as hearing the 80's layer-cake reverb production of "Wind Beneath My Wings" next to the spare, breathy 1972 "Do You Want to Dance." The album as a continual platter is disjointed.

That doesn't mean Bette isn't worth listening to. From her first show on the scene, The Divine Miss M, she established herself as a unique entertainer, a singer who could slip into songs and styles with ease. Her version of John Prine's "Hello In There" from that album is probably my favorite version of a Prine song by another artist. She successfully made the leap to acting when The Rose Soundtrack took her to the number one position on the charts, and then Beaches gave her a lock on super-stardom. Only Barbra Streisand comes close to Bette as a contemporary, and Bette can rock harder.

While of late, Bette has been working the American Songbook (Rosemary Clooney and Peggy Lee), she can still knock any song she wants to out of the park. "The Best Bette" is not perfect, but almost every song here is.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Daughtry "Leave This Town"

This Town Like a Million Other Towns,
3 Out of 5 Stars

What do you get when you formulate Bon Jovi + Nickleback divided it by 1/8th Nashville? You get the second album by Daughtry. Chris Daughtry, the most successful loser on American Idol, likes his grunge-lite and radio friendly, even while he and his mates pose like bad boys. The little girls may understand, the boys get the faux menace, and the moms raised on Bon Jovi and Bad Company just might dig them, too. As the lead single states, "No Surprise" indeed.

Daughtry likes their hooks thick and melodic, which makes all the songs here easy to digest. And Chris is a solid songwriter, with both "Ghost Of Me" and "Life After You" really good songs. There's just not much here that you haven't heard a thousand times before, done better. I get no sense that Daughtry is themselves, although the ubder-compressed production would probably bury anything remotely subtle. "Leave This Town" is so wretchedly flat-boxed that I was getting ear-fatigue by the time Vince Gill's country choirboy vocal appeared on "Tennessee Line." (Shades of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard's song with Tim McGraw!)

Bottom line: Did you like the first Daughtry, latest Nickleback or Bon Jovi's Nashville outing? If so, you'll be right at home with "Leave This Town."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Alan Parsons Project "Eve"

Man Vs Woman Vs Music,
3 Out of 5 Stars

The fourth album from the Alan Parsons Project went for the biggest question of them all. Forget Science Fiction, Classic Horror Lit or Egyptian Mythology. This time, it's the battle of the sexes. It was one mighty topic, and The Project had more apple in their teeth than they could chew. It is the most average of The Alan Parsons Project's earlier albums. The problem lies in the songwriting. By trying to divide it into a male and female half, the men are portrayed as misogynistic ("You Lie Down With Dogs") or harpies ("I'd Rather Be a Man"). The women as either weak and needy ("If I Could Change Your Mind") or devious and even deformed (the infamous hipgnosis artwork).

There was also the issue that Parsons and Eric Woolfsons note in the liner that they were under deadline pressure and had to veer away from the original concept. One wonders what might have been should the artists been allowed more time to develop their original ideas. As such, "Eve" seems to be half a great album. "Lucifer" became the first of the wildly popular instrumentals that APP became known for. "Damned If I Do" became a Top 40 hit. And one of the rare APP songs with a female lead, "If I Could Change Your Mind" sung by Lesley Duncan, is beautiful. The orchestrations by Andrew Powell are some of APP's best on record. I love the sounds on "Wind Me Up" in particular.

The remastering brings these details out far better than the old CD version. The new "Eve" offers one extra treat among the bonus tracks, a piano instrumental from the legendary "Sicilian Defense" album. Now titled "Elsie's Theme," it's a pleasant work that was never fleshed out. Again, wondering what might have been had Parsons and Woolfsons not been jammed up by their record company. Two albums later, the APP turned out their greatest success (Eye in the Sky), and "Eve" was part of the journey.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: John Mayer "Continuum"

Turning Into a Grown Up,
4 out of 5 Stars

The big handed John Meyer has grown up before our very ears. While he was a younger guitar godlet, his musical range (especially lyrically) was still that of a kid. He wanted to break away from that mold with his power trio album, Try! Live in Concert, it isn't until now that Mayer sounds like his own man. "Waiting For the World To Change" is the calling card, when he sings

"One day our generation is gonna rule the population,
so we keep on waiting,
waiting on the world to change."

You can see the youthful kid become a more idealistic adult. And those "Clapton Jr" comments that have swirled around him? They are now 100% apt. Mayer is flowing his blues as naturally as they come. When he tackles Hendrix's "Bold As Love," you have to admire his guts. "Belief" and "Vultures" are mature songs that show a huge leap from Heavier Things, where his sound and lyrics are fully formed and beautiful. His band, now under the core of bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan, mixes rock and blues, pop and jazz in a smooth and clear and cool finished CD.

The dictionary defines continuum as "A continuous extent, succession, or whole, no part of which can be distinguished from neighboring parts except by arbitrary division" and the seamlessness of the 2008 model of John Mayer meets that definition. "Continuum" is the work of an artist approaching the peak of his powers, and rates as an album in the league of his older peers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why does it take COMEDY CENTRAL to report the news?

Jon Stewart catches Fox's Sean Hannity in a Whopper.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck's Protest Footage
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

My Amazon Reviews: Brett Every "Camping Out"

Setting up Camp at the Local Watering Hole
4 Out of 5 Stars

Brett Every is an out Australian singer songwriter who came to my attention via an act of his own shameless self promotion. He came across my column about gay muicians where I lamented the lack of a Gay Springsteen. He joked that he might be that person in an e-mail to me, so of course I had to check out his CD. Intrigued, I took the bait.

Featuring eight originals and two covers, Brett Every's "Camping Out" drops down at the piano bench and sets up a bottle of whiskey for his album of smokey, jazz inflected tunes. Brett covers the ground of wounded literate lovers (think Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Mark Eitzel) and lets his rough hewn voice convey the world weary delights that are so easy to relate to. At the same time, his ballad about New York ("Swaying") is a great straight ahead love song, and it's nice to see an out artist sing without fuzzing up the gender concerns.

The tone to the album is pretty forward and low-key at the same time, with hints of cabaret jazz and pop; covering Cyndi Lauper's "Dear John" as a harmonica driven blues number kind of speaks to Brett's eclectic nature. (Great harmonica solo!) The title song tells the story of a pair of cowboys under the night sky ("hadn't seen stars that bright since 1999...") as they find ways to protect each other from the frost. It's as intimate as the smoke from their campfire, and then Brett turns as campy as the Golden Girls namedropping of "Devereaux" (with fellow Australian Justin J Bear) without losing his footing. Solid from beginning to end, Brett Every's "Camping Out" is a first rate artist's coming out.

Also recommended: Mark Wiegle's Soul Sex: Wrestling the Angel/Versatile

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Tori Amos "Abnormally Attracted to Sin"

Sinfully Delicious,
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Tori Amos has been forging her own path ever since she fled America in the wake of "Y Kant Tori Read," an album that had her fronting an oddball mix of glam rock and Kate Bush. When she found success on her own terms with Little Earthquakes, she never looked back. But given that she's been making records for almost 20 years and this is only her 10th studio album, it's striking that she's still cheerfully tinkering with the formula.

"Abnormally Attracted To Sin" has much of you'd expect from Tori. The avant-garde-ish mix of sound, the poetic imagery, the quasi-religious (or to some, blasphemous) imagery, and her gliding piano. This time, there's more an electronic edge that The Beekeeper and fewer thematic ties than American Doll Posse. In fact, if anything to these ears, Tori is really back to embracing that inner Kate Bush. Songs like "Welcome To England" and the theatrical "That Guy" really beg the comparisons, in a good way.

There's plenty to like here if you're a Tori fan. At 12 songs, you need to be prepared for a big dose of Tori, yet there's so much here that I have a hard time taking it all in. Again, this is in a good way. I've been taking in "AAtS" at a few song at a time and I'm still finding favorites. Right now, it's the ballad "Hello California." A couple weeks ago it was the slightly psychedelic "500 Miles." And when I first popped this CD in the player, it was "That Guy." Given that I've had "Sin" for a couple of months and yet to tire of it - as well as finding new favorites every couple listens - this could be one of Tori's best to date.

Monday, November 9, 2009

AmericaBlog Calls For Gay Donor Boycott Of Democratic National Committee (From Joe.My.God)

Some may recall that, over the summer, I posted a blog titled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Donate." Looks like the sentiment is spreading.


Under the headline Don't Ask, Don't Give, John Aravois and Joe Sudbay of the widely-read AmericaBlog today called for a boycott of LGBT donations to the Democratic party over the failures of the Obama administration and the DNC to properly support and advocate for gay causes.

Joe and I are launching today a donor boycott of the DNC. The boycott is cosponsored by Daily Kos, Michelangelo Signorile, Paul Sousa the founder of Equal Rep in Boston, and soon others. It's really more of a "pause," than a boycott. Boycotts sounds so final, and angry. Whereas this campaign is temporary, and is only meant to help some friends - President Obama and the Democratic party - who have lost their way.

We are hopeful that via this campaign, our friends will keep their promises.So please sign the Petition and take a Pledge to no longer donate to the DNC, Organizing for America, or the Obama campaign until the President and the Democratic party keep their promises to the gay community, our families, and our friends. You can find our Frequently Asked Questions, below, that explain the entire campaign. You can use our "Tell a Friend" page to tell all of your friends, family members, and coworkers about this effort (and we won't keep any of the email addresses you entire, they'll all be deleted after the emails are sent).

Tensions between the DNC and AmericaBlog came to a boil last week after openly gay DNC treasurer Andy Tobias revealed that the DNC had "intentionally" asked Maine contributors to support NJ Gov. Jon Corzine with no such accompanying request to help Maine's marriage equality effort.

My Amazon Reviews: Josh Ritter "The Golden Age of Radio"

Wireless Wonderment,
4 Out of 5 Stars

Maybe there was a time when radio would have picked up on a man like Josh Ritter. Perhaps the early seventies, when you could scan the dial and find the likes of James Taylor or Gordon Lightfoot. But in 2009, only National Public Radio or a dedicated folkie type of show would be picking the good stuff off of Ritter's "Golden Age Of Radio." As it is, I wound up discovering him at the 2009 Newport Folk Festival, where he and his band delivered a high energy show that blended the best of his singer-songwriter sensibility with a harder edge that bordered on Springsteen.

"Golden Age" is a more homey, lo-fi type of record, mining both the singer-songwriter and Americana storytelling veins. Ritter has something of a low-tenor that isn't the best singing voice, but as he sings that he's sitting on the porch and pouring his heart out to Townes Van Sandt, you can feel he's got his heart in the right place. The arrangements are, for the most part, spartan. An accordion accents "Lawrence Kansas" while "Harrisburg" has little more than a deep bass violin (I think) underneath it to accent the despairing lyrics. When Ritter lets his band kick in ("Me and Jiggs," the title track), he starts to show the flair that I witnessed in his live shows.

Given that "Golden Age Of Radio" was initially released in 2002, when Ritter was just entering his 20's, he was still working out the earnestness of the folk music he'd just discovered. This is serious stuff, and quite good; a young man on the brink of unearthing his greatest strengths. Fans of Iron and Wine or Conor Oberst will enjoy this the most.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Sarah McLachlin "Closer: The Best Of"

Building a Discography,
4 Out of 5 Stars

While she is not what one would call a highly influential singer or songwriter, Sarah McLachlin's primary contribution to the extension of musical culture is being the founder of Lilith Fair, the groundbreaking all-female musical extravaganza during the Lollapalooza festival era. Her music, an earthy/spacial mixture of new age emotions and feminine pop smarts, dovetailed nicely with many of the Lilith gang, like Paula Cole, Sinéad O'Connor or Natalie Merchant.

Which makes Sarah's "Closer" a tidy wrap-up of the career she's built on that identity and her style of singing/songwriting. The singles are all here, like "Building A Mystery," "Sweet Surrender" and the moving "Angel." Most of the songs come from Sarah's middle period, comprising of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing, when she moved more towards piano based pop that found her in a calmer, thoughtful place. (Compared to the younger track, "Vox" from Touch, which seems like it wanted to be a Eurythmics song.)

Once she found this groove, Sarah worked it like few others could. Her producer and working partner, Pierre Marchand, have taken these records into the earthy/atmospheric territory folks like Daniel Lanois or Brian Eno first pioneered. It makes the seven tracks from that period (eight if you count the live version of "I Will Remember You") the best on "Closer." The three from Afterglow begin showing signs of overproduction, while two new songs round out the CD. Of those two, the most telling is "U Want Me 2." It falls back to a stripped down pop base, yet keeps the earthy atmosphere of her best work. "Don't Give Up On Us" sounds like it could have come from any of her albums' outtakes and offers nothing new. For fans who haven't owned any of Sarah's other albums, "Closer" does a nice wrap-up.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Jason Mraz "We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things"

We Sing, We Dance, We're Lightweight,
3 out of 5 Stars

Jason Mraz is the kind of sweetly done adult pop that gets the occasional breakthrough, and his "We Sing..." is the 2008/9 model. His airy, Jack Johnson copy, "I'm Yours," broke Billboard chart records of longevity, and was the most omnipresent earworm since James Blunt's "You're Beautiful." That song has made Jason a newly minted star, but how does his breakthrough CD hold up? Like a Hostess cupcake. He'll sing about it, dance for it, but that cupcake is one that Jason would consider himself too nice a guy to shoplift.

"We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things" offers up creamy observations on love and life, overproduced goopy ballads and sweet folky pastries. When it works ("I'm Yours," "Lucky" with Colbie Caillat), it makes for solid easy listening fair. When it doesn't ("The Dynamo of Volition"), Jason comes of as really annoying white-bread soul without much depth. And frankly, the sterile horn charts and string sections often make the songs sound over-produced. If you listen without digging in too deep, "We Sing..." is pleasant enough, but paying stricter attention shows an artist playing it way too safe.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Passings: Robert Maddox, Co-Founcer of Male Hide Leathers, Chicago

I was sent the message that Bob Maddox (on right, with partner Frank Gohey), the cofounder of Male Hide Leathers in Chicago, passed away suddenly Sunday, Oct 25th. His friend, David Boyer (manager of Touche and formerly The Cell Block), sent out a heartfelt notice, which says it better than I could have.

Greetings all,

Guess I have been putting this off the past couple of days, as this week I must begin on a very sad note. My dear friend and a giant of the leather community Bob Maddox, passsed away last Sunday. Bob and his partner Frank began making leather gear for guys way back before there was a Touché. They openned Male Hide Leathers on Illinois Street just around the corner from the old Gold Coast bar. This was where I got fitted for my first set of leather chaps and vest. Eventually Male Hide would move up to Lincoln Avenue to a location across the street from Touché.

As an owner of Male Hide, Bob was very supportive of Chicago's leather scene. I can't count the number of leather items and gift certificates given out at club nights at Touché over these many years. They set up shop at club runs and showed support by placing ads in programs for all kinds of events. Sure they were promoting their business, but this was at a time when guys were still hiding their leather gear in the trunk of their car. If gay guys were in the closet, leathermen were even deeper in that closet.

Bob and Frank were true pioneers of leather and kink. As I lived next to the old bar, we became neighbors and good friends. We consoled each other upon the loss of our life partners. We would hit the movies, get together for breakfast or just check up on each other over the years. I am sure going to miss Bob.I have already been asked about services for Bob. He is going to laid to rest next to Frank down in Kentucky this Friday. Plans for a memorial gathering for Bob are being made for the Thanksgiving weekend as some of Bob's family wish to join with his Chciago family in saying goodbye.

Bob was always very kind and supportive of my work, and often entertained me with wildly funny stories of his time in Chicago's early leather years. I got to know him on a limited basis during the publications of Rubber Rebel and Vulcan America, and while working on the early years of the Mister International Rubber contests.

My Amazon Reviews: Green Day "21'st Century Breakdown"

The Era of Static and Contraband,
4 Out of 5 Stars

If American Idiot was Green Day's Tommy, then '21'st Century Breakdown" must be Quadrophenia. Really good stuff, but not quite as mind blowing as the original. The comparisons to The Who are screaming out from the "Baba O'Riley" inspired piano that opens the first act to the stunning power of the climactic "21 Guns." There are moments when "21'st Century Breakdown" really does sound like it could be the level of classic that "American Idiot" is now recognized to be.

Problems surface as you keep listening. The lack of variety becomes waring at about the halfway mark, redeemed mostly by "21 Guns" and the high velocity "Horseshoes and Hand-grenades." Like many ambitious albums, "21'st Century Breakdown" takes on too much and doesn't score bulls-eyes on all counts, and that starts making the album drag out. Making this a two act play instead of three might have trimmed the fat a bit, but how do you tell an artist (like Billie Joe)with this much vision that he needs to cut back? The answer is; You can't. So you look at the 75% of the album that positively makes your jaws drop.

To the end, there's plenty. The saga of Christian and Gloria is kind of hard to follow (again, shades of "Quadrophenia"), but the rocking numbers blast through the muck. The album again plays with the usual Green Day formula; the acoustic drive of "Peacemaker" recalls the more experimental Warning. And even though I've mentioned it multiple times in this review, "21 Guns" is - to my ears - quite probably the best single that Green Day has ever released. "21'st Century Breakdown" may not ultimately be the group's best album, but it's nothing to be ashamed of. And perhaps, like "Quadrophenia," may gain in stature as the years pass.

Consumer Lust: Beatles Edition

Apple Corps and EMI Music are issuing the Beatles remasters on a limited edition apple-shaped USB drive in time for Christmas. The release marks the first time Beatles catalogue has officially been sold as digital files separate from the CDs. Vinyl versions of the reissues are expected soon.Following the global 09/09/09 release of the digitally remastered albums and box sets, the limited edition USB of all the albums will be released on Dec. 7 in the U.K. and Dec. 8 in North America. The USB is available forpre-order at the online Beatles store, priced $279.99.

Limited to 30,000 units, the 16MB USB features 14 Beatles stereo releases as well as all of the re-mastered CDs' visual elements, including 13 mini-documentary films about the studio albums, replicated original U.K. album art, rare photos and expanded liner notes.A specially designed Flash interface has been installed, and audio and visual contents will be provided in FLAC 44.1 Khz 24 bit and MP3 320 Kbps formats. The content is fully compatible with Mac and PC. The Amazon link is here.

You Knew She Had it In Her (Pun Intended)

Because the bigger the drum closet, the bigger the skelton

From JoeMyGod:
This is totally make your day and almost make up for Maine. TMZ is reporting that Carrie Prejean has suddenly withdrawn her million-dollar lawsuit against Miss California USA after the pageant's lawyers showed her a clip from her own XXX sex tape.
Carrie Prejean demanded more than a million dollars during her settlement negotiations with Miss California USA Pageant officials -- that is, until the lawyer for the Pageant showed Carrie an XXX home video of her handiwork.

The video the lawyer showed Carrie is extremely graphic and has never been released publicly. We know that, because TMZ obtained the video months ago but decided not to post it because it was so racy. Let's just say, Carrie has a promising solo career.

We're told it took about 15 seconds for Carrie to jettison her demand and essentially walk away with nothing. As we first reported, the Pageant is paying around $100,000 to her lawyers and publicist -- a fraction of her bills. She pockets nothing in the settlement.
Hey Maggie Gallagher! Did I just hear your tires squealing? Since, as you say, God was speaking directly to Carrie during her anti-gay pageant answer, what was he saying during her double-penetration scene? I kid, I kid. I only HOPE there's a double-penetration scene!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Black Crowes "Shake Your Money Maker"

Shaking it up with the Black Crowes,
5 out of 5 Stars

It's hard to believe that, as the 80's drew to a close, an album like this was taken to heart and to the charts. A band that mixed the greasier aspects of The Rolling Stones and the Southern rock of the Allman Brothers, along with a little soul and gospel, would fit in during the last dregs of New Wave and the mad popularity of the Jackson clan. But the lo-fi rocking of "Hard to Handle" and "Jealous Again" turned this booze soaked pair of brothers into stars.

Between vocal brother Chris Robinson's approximation of Rod Stewart's vocal swagger and Rich's muscular riffing, "Shake Your Money Maker" snagged an audience of classic rockers that were being under-served in 1990. The band also knew how to make a stoner anthem ballad with "She Talks To Angels," an acoustic classic that captured the band's versatility. Striking, direct and to the point, "Shake Your Money Maker" kicked off a career that The Black Crowes have stuck to ever since. What was dismissed by many as retro some 20 years ago still has the groove of classic rock in its veins, even as such newer albums as Warpaint continue their mastery of the genre.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: KC and The Sunshine Band "The Best Of"

KC and the Same Song Band, 3 Out of 5 Stars

Some of the finest radio moments of the 70's are to be found on this best of CD. Howie Casey and Richard Finch created a sunny dance sound that was unique to them, and parlayed that into several number one hits, dance floor smashes and a successful production career as KC and The Sunshine Band. Sparkling guitar and horn charts that blasted like shotguns (to the point of calling one song "Shotgun Shuffle") made their hits stand out among the more pedestrian radio insta-hit fare.

Problem is, they only had one idea. Take away the brilliant hits and the remaining tracks begin sliding into an utter, repetitive blandness. As the disco craze wound down, an attempt at keeping up, "Let's Go Rock and Roll," was almost laughably bad. Kind of like BTO, KC and The Sunshine band kept milking the same general turf until the only thing left was the oldies circuit and state fairs. Ah, but put on "Get Down Tonight" or "That's The Way I Like It" and you'll have no capability to avoid shaking your booty. With it's sped up guitar lick giving the song its spacey opening, "Get Down Tonight" became a number one single and a 70's classic.

Astonishingly enough, this CD contains five number one singles, starting with "Get Down Tonight" and including "That's The Way," "Shake Your Booty," Rob Zombie fave "I'm Your Boogie Man" and the ballad "Please Don't Go." Oddly enough, there's a pair of missing hits in the duet "Yes I'm Ready" and an interesting discofied version of The Four Tops' "Same Old Song." Given the weakness of some of the "bonus" tracks, a substitution would have worked to this CD's favor. If your closet still smells of 12-inch vinyl and polyester, that won't matter to you..."The Best Of KC and The Sunshine" band will make you want to put on those Boogie Shoes.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Amazon Reviews: Jill Sobule "California Years"

Out in California, 4 Out of 5 Stars

I was fortunate enough to catch Jill Sobule at Philadelphia's Tin Angel club, where she not only previewed some of these songs for us lucky attendees, but she also invited me (and a bunch of others) to sing "All The Young Dudes" with her. She also sold us download "USB keys" that offered the opportunity to own that night's somewhere out there, you can hear my voice bellowing the verses to Mott The Hoople with Jill.
But that also meant that I've been listening to "San Francisco," "Nothing To Prove" and a few others prior to "California Years" arriving. So I am already predisposed to loving this CD, and Jill Sobule once again did not let me down. Fan-funded and self-released, "California Years' is primarily inspired by Jill's move out west and all the golden glow (and mirages) Southern Cal has to offer. There's the on/off fascination that opens the album on a visit to Palm Springs, where a hike into the beautiful desert hills is so hot that you turn back, or vibrancy of the pictures you've seen gives way to a resort filled with seniors. There's also the musical contradiction. Is Palm Springs, California the sunny fun-filled world of Brian Wilson or the tragic wanderlust of Graham Parsons?

Jill's previous CD, Underdog Victorious, played with the contradictions by hiding some sad subjects under glossy pop, but here the sadness gets the low cry of pedal steel. It's some pretty awesome stuff. Same for "San Francisco." Not that Jill has lost her sense of humor. Both the biting "Nothing To Prove" and "Spiderman" take broad pokes at the entertainment business. "Mexican Pharmacy" is a bit more of a realistic take on why Tijuana has such a great rep for inexpensive drugstores. And there's the shaggy-dog story of "Where is Bobbie Gentry," which takes a long over-due look at what happened on the Tallahatchie Bridge some 40 years later.

"California Years" is proof to me that, once again, Jill Sobule's best music making years are still in progress. Her "I Kissed A Girl" fling in the spotlight may be two decades past, but CD's like "California Years" give fans like us reason to keep coming back.