Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's my Bear's Birthday!

Happy Birthday Papa Joel! 

I Love You!

My Amazon Reviews: Seals and Crofts "Diamond Girl"

Diamond GirlJewel of the 70's
4 Out Of 5 Stars

While it took James Seals and Dash Crofts four albums to finally have a hit, the classic "Summer Breeze," they made certain to craft a follow-up that was near its equal. The 1973 release of "Diamond Girl" met the challenge, and included two of the duo's most enduring hits. Both the title track and "We May Never Pass This Way Again" helped make "Diamond Girl" Seals and Crofts highest charting album, peaking at number four.

While not as strong musically as "Summer Breeze," Seals and Crofts were stretching out musically. In addition to the harmonized folk they're best known for, they also took turns at Texas boogie ("Standing On A Mountain Top") and a country story song (the weak "Dust On My Saddle'). The jazzy instrumental "Wisdom" closes the CD showcasing Seals' saxophone abilities. But their strengths were still in the CSN styled mellow sounds, and "Diamond Girl" was loaded with them.

The hit "We May Never Pass This Way Again" became the theme to many a mid-seventies high-school prom, but Seals and Crofts were all about the spiritual bonding. "Ruby Jean and Billie Lee" was a heartfelt valentine to their wives and newborn children, and "Nine Houses" an explicit song about their Baha'i religious faith. They hadn't yet crossed the line into proselytizing (that would happen on the next album, "Unborn Child"), so "Diamond Girl" maintains its luster as one of Seals and Crofts' best works.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Todd Rundgren "Nearly Human"

Back to Philadelphia
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Todd Rundgren went back to his hometown and went for the sound of Philadelphia on "Nearly Human." There's a delightful abundance of Philly White Guy Soul spread across this poppy return to form, as he decided to eschew the gimmicks and just have his band record the album live in the studio. This resulted in two of his best late 80's songs, "The Want of a Nail" with Bobby Womack and the ballad of despairing "Parallel Lines."

His sense of fun is also back, as his spry cover of Elvis Costello's "Two Little Hitlers" indicates. The Tubes join him for a rocking number called "Feel It" (both Prairie Prince and the late Vince Welnick eventually joined Todd in a few of his touring bands). And finally, there's the stunning "Hawking." Todd sings his heart out on one of his most soulful ballads. As usual, "Nearly Human" shares many of the delights of knowing you're not always going to get a standardized album when Rundgren decides to let one out. This remains one of his better 80's albums.

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Seal "Seal - First Album"

SealPerfect Merger, 
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The 1991 debut album by Seal was a merger of two styles that made almost perfect sense; Trevor Horn's symphonic electric overloads with newly discovered vocal soul courtesy of Seal. Synthed together with house-styled club beats, their fusion launched one of the most distinctive voices of 90's soul. Seal himself was both soulful and mysterious with his unusual looks and mystical sounding lyrics. Combined with an incredible video, "Crazy" became a club anthem and top 10 hit.

One of greater attractions behind the sound was Horn's production. Never one to show restraint in the past, here he keeps his overload to a minimum. Seal's voice has room to breathe on tracks like "Deep Water" or the psychedelic soul of "Future Love Paradise." That voice is a marvel. It growls and coos with equal adeptness, even if the lyrics sometimes slip into hippie-dippy territory. But when you're listening to the pump of "Killer" or the jazzy "Violet," you could forgive Seal his debut indulgences. This album is still an audacious debut of a major talent.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: The Royal Guardsmen "Snoopy Vs The Red Baron"

Snoopy vs. the Red Baron/Snoopy & His FriendsTen, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty of more
2 out of 5 Stars

I bought this because "Snoopy And The Red Baron" is the first 45 single I can remember owning as a kid, and the original album may have been the first album I ever really took to as a kid, A very well worn and scruffy covered Laurie label 12-inch album is still packed away in a box here at the Tbrough mancave. Therefore, it's my nostalgia and I am 100% OK with that.

The Royal Guardsmen were a Florida bunch of college students who formed a garage band and got lucky with a string of novelty songs based on the adventures of Snoopy V The Red Baron. When it came time to actually flesh out an entire album, they covered a lot of hits of the period. They kept it safe, fun and perky; just prefect for my 8 year old self to bounce around to. Period songs like "Bo Diddly," "Peanut Butter" and "The Battle of New Orleans" are covered, with a smattering of originals ("Bears" is a really bizarre song that has taken a relevance for me years later!) This also contains their lone non-Snoopy hit, a cover of The Rascal's "Baby Let's Wait."

The second lp here was actually the RG's 3'rd (another twofer CD included the band's 2nd and 4th), and was a total cash-in. Fake newscast done it cornily exaggerated European accents link together semi-related Snoopy WWI songs and the Christmas Novelty "Snoopy's Christmas." The band tried mightily to come up with some originals to overcome their novelty status; you get the feeling they really dreamed of being be The Loving Spoonful or The Rascals ("Airplane Song," "So Right") but it's drowned out by the likes of "Do The Sopwith Camel" (and yes, I loved that one as a kid, too).

One quick word about the sound; it's very lo-fi. But having read that the band recorded most of this stuff on their own, you shouldn't be expecting Sgt Pepper.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Amazon Movie Reviews: "Deliver Us From Evil"

Deliver Us from EvilDeliver Us From Weasels
4 out of 5 Stars

Director Amy Berg and Father Thomas Doyle deserve a lot of credit for their bravery. Even braver are the victims in this harrowing documentary of child abuse and rape by a California Catholic Priest and the ongoing cover-up. From the seventies and into the nineties, Father Oliver O'Grady was sexually molesting children of both sexes, including the rape of a nine month old infant. But each of the numerous times he was caught, his superiors would deny there was any problem, then promise the problem would be taken care of, then whisk O'Grady off to another location where the cycle would start over.

The difference between this and many of the other abuse scandals to strike the Catholic Church is that O'Grady genially admits he is a pedophile, forcing those in charge of the clean-up detail to whitewash the aftermath of the stated facts. Father Doyle is seemingly the only one in the hierarchy to exhibit any common sense in the matter, and his grilling of Bishop Roger Mahoney (now the Cardinal of Los Angeles) paints an evil picture of a man willing to throw his Christians to the Lions if they came in-between him and his ambitions to higher office. His frigid denials are enough to turn your stomach. Mahoney refuses, over and over, to acknowledge that O'Gardy's actions were criminal or even merited disciplinary action, even denying he recalls any problems with molestations at one point (by claiming it would be the obligation of the church's attorneys).

The pattern is maddening. O'Grady takes a Church, destroys lives, gets caught, gets a promotion to another location. When he finally gets into a scandal he can't wriggle out of, the church buys his silence with an annuity fund. After serving seven years, O'Grady is deported to Ireland, where his sex crimes are unknown and he is free to live out his life as he chooses. Basically, O'Grady is walking free among families (when the film catches up with him, he is living with a family and their children, they have no idea he's a convicted child molester) with the full blessing of the Church and on the Vatican's payroll.

In O'Grady's aftermath, you see a victim's father angry denounce God and religion as fake, a Pope granted immunity from prosecution from President Bush as the scandal creeps towards the top, and - again - O'Grady walking the streets of Ireland. In an interesting side note, the prosecutorial immunity that Bush gave Pope Hitler Youth Ratzinger from the scandal may not protect the Pope from the Irish abuse scandal that now swarms around Cardinal Sean Brady's repeated covering up of abuses. Or maybe, like the despicable laissez faire attitude the Vatican took over Boston's Cardinal Law, they'll just fly Brady in to head a basilica in Rome. As "Deliver Us From Evil" shows, it would just fit the pattern.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Hot Hot Heat "Happiness Ltd"

Happiness Ltd.Chelsea Clothes and Brooklyn Dreams
3 out of 5 Stars

Hot Hot Heat must have gotten a cold cold shoulder in the love department; "Happiness is limited, but misery has no end," is how this once effervescent band of post-new wavers glumly kick off their fourth album. Make no mistake, the giddy percolating pop that threw Elevator off the rails has been broadened to include some serious downers. In addition to the title bummer, there's "A Good Day to Die," which couches a true Cure-depressant lyric atop a peppy melody, and the closing "Waiting For Nothing," has lead singer Steve Bays watching his ex-girlfriend walk off into the sunset as he whimpers "I waited for nothing, but I waited for her." This is Hot Hot Heat going through growing pains.

A far darker album than any of their prior efforts, anyone looking for the manic pop thrill of "Running Out Of Time" or "Bandages" might be taken aback. But if you let the album sink in, their are rewards to be found. The title track is a pure Morrissey/Robert Smith vibe, and is one of their best. "Harmonicas and Tambourines" is a good song about misplaced aspirations and vicarious living. For those craving that keyboard driven rock that brought the band into the spotlight, there are the great "Let Me In," "5 Times Out of 100" and "Give Up?," all radio worthy zingers. (With "Let Me In" eager to give The Killers a run for the money.)

While they have yet to achieve an album that establishes greatness (ala the aforementioned Las Vegas guys and Sam's Town), there are moments that suggest "Happiness Ltd" was aching to grasp it. If the fifth album maybe stays with one producer (Butch Walker seems to frame the band best on the CD, Rob Cavallo a close second), Hot Hot Heat may yet catch commercial fire. Recommended.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Gene Simmons "Gene Simmons 1978"

Gene SimmonsThe Demon Indulges 
3 Out Of 5 Stars 

In 1978, the four members of Kiss decided to pull a huge marketing stunt; each of the players would release a solo album to be released simultaneously on the same date. In his book And Party Every Day: The Inside Story Of Casablanca Records, Larry Harris tells that Kiss had a distribution clause in their contract that any album Kiss recorded was obligated to shipped a million copies on the opening day, and while Neil Bogart and others tried to argue the band down, Kiss held firm. The end result was one of the biggest promotional catastrophes in record industry history. As the joke goes, it shipped gold, but came back platinum. Casablanca never recovered, but the 1978 Kiss solo albums remain in print.

Does the legend match the music? Not really, as the albums are uniformly decent but not incredible. The four personalities of the band would occasionally combine to make classic rock, and they needed each other to bounce off of. So I may catch flack for this, but despite that previous statement, I think Gene Simmons is a genius. There aren't many bands from the 70's that can still pump out top ten albums in the 21'st century, and for an immigrant from Israel who came up from nothing, he has marketed his band (and himself) to a point where the music and the image is universal. Gene is the demon bassist, the bat monster of rock. That is the personality he cultivated, yet his solo album shows that in his heart of hearts, he really wants to be... Paul McCartney?

The Demon had a soft spot. Who knew? Both "Always Near You/Nowhere To Hide" and "See You Tonight" play off soft harmonies and melodic guitars. Gene so wanted to get that Beatles effect that he hired two members of the Broadway show cast of Beatlemania to sing backups. On a pair of the songs here, he debates the personality he's created for himself. "Man Of A Thousand Faces" and "Mr Make Believe" both wipe off the make-up. And then, there is the over the top finale, as Gene goes full-on show tunes for "When You Wish Upon A Star." Hands down, it's the weirdest thing to appear on any album associated with Kiss, and that is saying something.

On the other hand, Gene was still ready to make the rock and roll go all night. He pulls "See You In Your Dreams" out from Rock and Roll Over and pumps it full of big guitars. "Radioactive" delivers the kind of hook he's good for with singles like "Christine Sixteen." And the lusty rock star known for his backstage proclivities comes out on "True Confessions" (featuring Helen Reddy?!?) and "Living in Sin" (featuring a groupie cameo from then gal pal Cher). They aren't the only ones invited to the party. Seventies stalwarts like Rick Neilsen, Bob Seger, Janis Ian, Joe Perry and Kiss compadre the late Sean Delaney are all aboard. "Gene Simmons" was not the best of the Kiss '78 solos (that award goes to Ace), but it does nab the blue ribbon for the most eclectic.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Prefab Sprout "Jordan: The Comeback"

Jordan: The ComebackOf Love, Jessie James, Elvis, America and God
5 out of 5 stars

A stunningly ambitious album, Prefab Sprout's four part "Jordan: The Comeback" is an old fashioned double album with a concept per "side." The first looks at love and the wildness of youth, the second explores American mythology of the 50's via Elvis, Jessie James and the cold war, the third, love as an adult getting married, and lastly, an examination of God and the Devil. Sterling production from Thomas Dolby complimented Paddy McAloon's folkish lyrics, and all together, this was as flawless an album as the classics xtc's Skylarking or Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden.

In addition to the flawless flow of the songs, there is an array of classic tunes to be found. The waltz-time heartbreaker "We Let The Stars Go" should have been a hit. "Carnival 2000" looked optimistically at the coming turn of the century with a Brazilian Beat and the Irish Prayer "We ask for any wrong we've done the years ahead forgive us. We ask for any good we've done that all of it outlive us."

Then comes the chapter of Elvis and Jessie, as Elvis watches his own funeral and complains about Albert Grossman's hack biography. Jessie James is a "dance upon the run," bemoaning that he's not portrayed as a culturally adept individual. Looking for class in his departure, he wonders "Don't goodbyes deserve some Bach, not Barbershop?" Meanwhile, Elvis plots his final comeback as the side closes with "Moondog." But the best, and most ambitious, part of "Jordan" happens as God and The Devil square off in the fourth part.

God wishes that his songs came to him as simple pleasures ("One of The Broken") as The Devil petitions to come back home ("Michael"). We're finally left with Paddy contemplating the afterlife, praying that he and his loved ones will meet again. After all, he sings, "If there ain't a Heaven that holds you tonight, then they never sang DooWop in Harlem."

"Jordan: The Comeback" is just as good as Steve McQueen (recently reissued in a deluxe version) and was easily one of 1990's best albums. It was also one of Thomas Dolby's finest hours as a producer, matching his love for Joni Mitchell sensitivity to McAloon's complex lyricism. McAloon also must have felt the strain of his own ambition: he didn't make another album for another six years. As such, "Jordan: The Comeback" is a terrific album to rest his legacy on.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Open Letter To Conservatives.

Deadly accurate, amusing and loaded with factual references. Great bit of work.

Tea Party: The Documentary Film

My Amazon Reviews: Semi Precious Weapons "We Love You"

We Love YouHard Rock Brawls with Glam
4 Out of 5 Stars

"We Love You" is a glorious racket that sounds like David Bowie conjured up a New York Dolls glam bomb and dropped it on AC/DC's Highway to Hell then hauled in producer Tony Visconti to clean up the mess. As far as I'm concerned, that's a recommendation. Really.

If Time Square had not been Disney-fied and 42'nd street still existed, SMW front-man Justin Tranter might have erupted from that very location. "We Love You" is sexy, sleazy and a great big dose of "we don't give a f***" rock and roll that could only come from the city that gave us The Ramones and The Plasmatics, and manage to rip of Parliament/Funkadelic ("Her Hair is On Fire") while still making you think they could be the future of Rock.

There isn't single song here that could get played on FCC paranoid radio stations, down to titling a song "That's K^nt." "We Love You" is the kind of record that scares Church Ladies. So they do a song about the girl that won't go out with Justin because she wants to (bleep) "Jesus." Semi Precious Weapons know that rock and roll used to be a euphemism for sex, so the album leads off with an oral sex anthem, "Taste." And they know for darn sure that, for many guitar wielding misfits, being a big star might be the only way out ("Rock and Roll Never Looked So Beautiful"). That's why "We Love You" could be the most important CD you listen to this year. Tired of conformist pap and posing hipsters passing themselves off as dangerous? Then bring on Semi-Precious Weapons.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Todd Rundgren "Healing"

HealingI had a vision in my sleep last night...
4 out of 5 Stars

Todd Rundgren took a stab at new ageist music in 1981, long before it was popular, with "Healing." It is designed as a complete listen, with most of the album ebbing and flowing from song to song, culminating with the three part "Healing" suite at the album's end. The music is back to Todd as One Man Band, focusing more on texture and feel than on style and pop structure.

The only time the original album diverted from that form was on the song "Golden Goose," whose quirky hook seemed jarring in the middle of "Healing's" more gentle nature. Allegedly written about a home invasion incident where Todd and his house-mates were tied up then robbed while the perps were whistling "I Saw The Light," it jerks the album from its meditative state. "Goose" is then followed by the superb ballad, "Compassion," which should have been a hit single. It's a song so emotionally rich and beautiful, it is among my ten favorite Todd songs. Funny thing as, the suits at his record company must not have heard "Compassion" that way.

When Todd first delivered "Healing," the execs were aghast. Obviously hoping for another popfest like Hermit of Mink Hollow, they sent it back to Todd with the demand for a hot single. Todd's response was to include "Tiny Demons/Time Heals" as a single inserted into pressings of the original album. As bonus tracks on the CD, they come off as out of place, even if "Time Heals" was a great bit of 80's power pop. That kind of jarring conclusion made it obvious that "Healing" was meant to be taken as a whole work. Todd never ventured back to an album like this (and the 80's instruments sometimes sound a bit dated now), placing "Healing" in a unique position in his already eclectic discography.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Keeping America Stupid: The Tea Party shows their true homophobic racist colors

Since these pumpkin headed mouth breathers couldn't get what they wanted, the staged a giant KKK rally at the capitol:

Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio called out the Puds on the Republican side to take responsibilty for the mess they are cultivating. Not that he should hold his breath.

My Amazon DVD Reviews: Storm

StormPeeling back memories
3 Out of 5 Stars

DeeDee is having a lousy day. It's storming in Sweden and some mysterious flaming red haired beauty just plunged into his cab after a bunch of goons tried to kill her over some unknown cube. Now those goons are after him. Prior to getting chased into DeeDee's cab, Lova the Red looked like she was being chased through some tunnels by monsters. But I don't think they were really monsters. Maybe gamers. Or something. Before you can say "not another alternative reality lurching computer matrix 'survive the game' thriller horror movie," you're in "Storm."

"Storm" is a puzzling film to follow, as DeeDee must somehow dislodge buried memories if he is to survive his night with Lova. The bends in the timeline to make the film somewhat interesting, and the look of "Storm" is dark, misty and moody. The more DeeDee discovers the reasons behind his receiving 'The Box,' the darker the movie becomes. I can't say that the final reveal was anything I cared about, or frankly, made any sense in conjunction with the film's conclusion. It shows DeeDee's messy life without apologies, or without a sudden change into virtue. I give "Storm" a bonus star for not taking that sort of easy route to a cleaned up ending. Swedish with dubbed English track available.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Sade "The Best of Sade"

The Best of SadeStronger Than Pride
5 Out of 5 Stars

You know you're in the presence of a unique artist when radio stations around the USA not only built a format around your music, but named the format after a line in one of your songs. The "Quiet Storm" format of soft jazz and sophisticated R'n'B began to appear in the 80's when programmers so fell in love with Sade (and other artists like Anita Baker) that they built entire programming menus around the music. This 1994 Best of Sade shows exactly why her sound has never been equaled by her many imitators.

Only four albums into her career (and with only two more released since), Sade's impossibly smooth voice was part of what identified her music, but there was so much more. Her three piece band, musician/songwriters Andrew Hale, Stuart Matthewman, and Paul S. Denman, played a slick but authentic sounding mixture of latin-jazz, lite funk and slinky R'n'B that sounded like nothing else in the market at that time. Sade's ever so cool voice recalled Billie Holiday and Nina Simone; it wasn't long before she was tagged a diva in the making. They moved with ease between the pop of "Smooth Operator" and "Hang On To Your Love" and the brassy force of "Is It A Crime."

This collection does a good job of balancing the band's mix of songs from the four albums, with an added bonus of Sade's cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love" from the Philadelphia soundtrack. It's also worth noting that Sade has never felt a need to bend their music to prevailing genres or trends; this is a best of that plays through with the consistency of a new album. Still smoking with the sensuality of the first time you heard Diamond Life, The Best of Sade is music that has lost none of its allure with the passing of time.