Monday, May 31, 2010

Present Tense/Tongue TwisterPerfect Fit
5 Out of 5 Stars

Hailing from Zion. Illinois, Shoes were the prefect antidote to a vacuum in the late 80's power pop universe. Led by the brotherly harmonies of Jeff and John Murphy and boasting a third strong songwriter in Guitarist Gary Klebe (drummer Skip Meyer rounds out the quartet), Shoes made the sort of effortless power-pop that sounds ridiculously derivative (Beatles, Kinks, Raspberries) at the same time it's stunningly original.

When "Present Tense" first appeared in 1979, I was boggled by the number of what seemed to me to be obvious hit singles. These guys had adolescent love down like few others of the time, and hookfests like "Tomorrow Night," "Now and Then" and "I Don't Miss You" cut through the clutter like no American Band on the current new wave rising. (Only Britain's The Records came close with "Starry Eyes.") Like The Knack, who released their debut at roughly the same time, Shoes wasted no time on getting right to the point, but unlike The Knack's focus on Doug Fieger, Shoes were a band that worked as an obvious unit. With the ambitious "Three Times," they made it plain to anyone who heard them that they had talent and ambition to burn.

Their second Elektra release, "Tongue Twister," was even better. Producer Richard Dashut managed to bring the Shoes' sound into a tighter focus and - song for song - the compositions are equal to those on "Present Tense." John and Jeff's harmonies are of a cotton weave beauty, and the loves songs "Karen" and "Found A Girl" rate with the band's best. They hadn't given up on their stunning fuzz-guitar attacks though, as "Your Imagination," "She Satisfies" and the closing "Hate To Run" make clear.

Shoes should have been huge. Like so many other terrific power-poppers of the new wave (The Producers, 20/20, Plimsouls, The Beat, etc), they got lost in the deluge. However, with these two albums available for download at a bargain price, this is well worth a space in your collection.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Cage The Elephant "Cage The Elephant"

Cage the ElephantElephant's memory
4 Out of 5 Stars 

I guess now that Kings of Leon have proven that there's still an audience for loud, sloppy rock and roll, labels are tripping over themselves to find the next KoL. Seems they didn't have to look very far. Cage The Elephant hail from Kentucky and make a glorious, unbridled back-to-basics guitar racket that hails from the long buried collective memories of The Rolling Stones, The Faces and others that turned their amps up and started shouting at the world.

 The main draw here was "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked," a snappy moralizing number that asks why people do devious things to survive. That survival theme runs through most of Cage The Elephant's music, with the kick start of "In One Ear" and the crossroads-type saga on "Drones In The Valley." There's plenty of old fashioned Us V. Them power that drives their music and more than enough unbridled energy to go around. No pretense, little gloss, good playing and good singing with no auto-tune in sight. Along with Crash Kings, one of the best of the current crop of new rockers.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Poison "20 Years Of Rock"

The Best of Poison: 20 Years of RockTake your medicine
4 Out of 5 Stars

Poison was one of those 'love to hate' bands of the 80's and 90's, racking up one glam rock hit after another, yet seemingly earning no respect with their double platinum. Yet they came from the same LA Street Scene that pulled up Guns and Roses, Ratt, and was essentially ruled by Motley Crue. Heck, the first Poison album, "Look What The Cat Dragged In" was on Indie label Enigma. It's not like they were handed their success, or got put together like the Monkees or something.

But there you have it. It's taken decades for Poison to get the credit they deserve and lately it's because of Brett Michaels having a stroke and/or being one of the hardest working front men in show-biz. When you crack open the Poison "20 Years Of Rock" and listen minus the hubris of the times, these songs have withstood the test of time. Then you look at the stats in the liner notes. From 1987 to 1991, Poison racked up an incredible ten Top 40 singles, 6 of these top ten and "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" hitting number one. Not bad for a bunch of guys with big hair and eyeliner.

At the same time, Poison has a workmanlike charm to the best of their songs. Call it 'blue-collar' or 'working-man' rock, but a party anthem like "Nothing But a Good Time" rates up there with "Rock and Roll All Night" (which they covered for the "Less Than Zero" soundtrack). When they got ambitious ("Something To Believe In"), they were a bit over-stretched, and unfortunately, the more they tried to break the glam-mold, (the album "Native Tongue"), the party hard audience drifted off - and only one song from that album is here. (And none from "Crack a Smile").

I am Ok with that, at their best, Poison were a singles band. They were a posturing, prancing and preening singles band, but why should that make a difference? Most bands would sell their souls to come up with the riff for "Every Rose Has It's Thorn" or "Talk Dirty To Me." It was more about the fun. So when Michaels yelped "CC, pick up that guitar and TALK to me!", you can tell that the party was on the way. 20 years on, it still feels that way.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Devo "Duty Now For The Future (Re-issue)"

Duty Now for the FutureThe Future Already Happened.
5 Out of 5 Stars

DEVO caught a minor case of the sophomore slump after their brilliant debut. "Duty Now For The Future" is a really, really good album that came after a perfect one, and it does shrivel in comparison. The DEVO eyes had turned from the sound of things falling apart to the machinery that made it go. Having used up most of their "conceptual" songs for the debut, we were served up musings on love work and death. "Swelling Itching Brain" and "The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise" are a pair DEVO hall of famers.

This is also the home of one of DEVO's best statement-of-purpose songs, the concert fave "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA." Declaring themselves to be "suburban robots to monitor reality," DEVO make the claim that they are here to protect both man and mutant, only to discover that Mr. DNA deems them fit to "sacrifice themselves so many others may live!" It also rocks harder than anything else DEVO ever recorded for the first part of their career. After this, the slick success of "Whip It" kind of tamed them...if you ever considered DEVO tamable.

Something for EverybodyAnd there's something else. I had always been annoyed by the production of the original album, and wondered why the band and producer Ken Scott chose to leave the album in a flat, murky sounding final mix. This re-issue corrects that in a serious way. While there are no indications that the disc was remixed, everything sounds sharper and more distinct. It's raised my original rating of "Duty Now..." to five stars because frankly, this sounds utterly new and exciting all over again.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shamless Baby Picture

This is Advah and her sister, Shoham, the evening of Advah's birth. Advah means 'wave' or 'ripple' in Hebrew. So now Joel and I are "Sabbas' for a second time!

And Thanks everyone for the birthday wishes.

My Amazon Reviews: Pink "Funhouse"

FunhouseIt's Never Too Late to be a Bad Influence
 4 Out of 5 Stars
What has amazed me about the music of Pink is how she has just kept getting better as the albums progress. "Funhouse" is a raging mass of goofy charisma, heartbreaking ballads and Joan Jett attitude. Not bad for someone who started off making giddy, disposable pop. And I think she knows it.

 Otherwise, how could you explain the snotty, tongue in cheek "So What (I'm just a Rock Star)" that opens the album? Or the equally cool "Bad Influence"? Granted, this is also her post-divorce album, so maybe she's just ready to go be a bad girl and vent some steam. Which is also what makes the title song, a kiss-off of funk, such a hoot. Comparing your break-up to a room "full of evil clowns" borders on brilliant.

At the same time, her voice gets stronger on the ballads, like the Stevie Nicks' influenced "Crystal Ball." Then there's the show-stopping "Glitter In The Air," which could be her strongest to date. Anyone who saw her powerful performance of this song on The Grammys this year may remember it as one of the show's few musical highlights. As someone I pretty much thought would be gone by now, Pink just keeps upping the ante.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Duncan Sheik "Brighter: A Collection"

Brighter: A Duncan Sheik CollectionBefore the Awakening
4 Out of 5 Stars 

This review is from: Brighter: A Duncan Sheik Collection (Audio CD)

In the late 90's, Duncan Sheik released his debut album on Atlantic Records. It was a modest affair of semi-confessional singer-songwriter material, but a minor hit began to get attention, and "Barely Breathing" became his first and only top 40 record. He seemed to be keen on the moodiness of Nick Drake (that the double disc of this set is called "Brighter/Later" makes the point obvious), yet often cleaves towards Elton John at that artist's most introspective.

That makes the 16 songs on this disc all satisfying listens; Sheik matches his poetic lyrics to low key but memorable songs. It made him perfect for the emo-soundtrack set, and his contribution to the teen angst-fest "Great Expectations" is included. There's also a telling previously unreleased cover of Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark," which fits in among his own work quite well. He could also rev up a guitar on occasion, and the power-pop contribution to this set is "Bite Your Tongue." Spring Awakening (2006 Original Broadway Cast)

However, Sheik is far more at home with the folkier aspects of his music, and the big reveal was the album "Phantom Moon." There are three songs from that album here, and they are the ones that come closest to realizing his Nick Drake aspirations. They're also noteworthy in that they mark the moment when Sheik began his collaboration with Steven Sater. This partnership would help bring Sheik back into the spotlight, when the two of them took home a pile of Tony Awards for the musical "Spring Awakening" and, I would bet, finally nudged this collection into being.

Best Early Birthday Present Ever!

Elston BearJust got news from Joel's daughter Nomi. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl this morning at about 10:30. Moms and Daughters are doing well! More to come (name, etc).

LOST re-enacted by Cats in 1 minute.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Sparks "In Outer Space"

In Outer SpaceHere to Infiltrate and Get a Tan
4 Out of 5 Stars

New wave, Devo, the Go-Go's, Huamn League...and Sparks. In 1983, the United States finally collided with the time-lines of Ron and Russel Mael. Their keyboard driven eccentric pop and wacky sense of humor fit right into the current musical scene, and with the host of New Wave acts that were all to happy to cite Sparks as one of their primary influences, "Sparks In Outer Space" became the brothers' biggest American hit. One of those devotees, Jane Wiedlen, teamed up with Russell for the impeccably perky "Cool Places," and the accompanying video drove the single into the US top 50. It was also one of Sparks' catchiest songs in years, with Wieldlen's perky vocal the perfect counterpart to Russell's archness. Propaganda

The other, lesser known duet is a humorous tale of mismatched partners lost at sea, "Lucky Me Lucky You." In addition to those two songs, we have the goofy "All You Ever Think About Is Sex" and the Devo-ish "A Fun Bunch Of Guys From Outer Space." I have always enjoyed the relatively straightforward "Rockin' Girls," where Russell falls in love "the only girl I ever met who hates 'Hey Jude'." As is the case with many of the best of Sparks' discography, "In Outer Space" always finds a way to subvert the most typical pop conventions with the clever and comic. As far as the 80's were concerned, this was the album to which they did it best, and is easily as good an album as "Propaganda" or "Indiscreet."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Getting Up to Speed and Losing It On an American Idiot

The Original Broadway Cast Recording "American Idiot" Featuring Green Day (2CD)It's been 3 weeks since I started the new job and the training period is over. I have been getting the knack of where all the paths lead as far as the multiple computer systems and redundancies are in the commercial making process. It takes about 15 minutes to make a commercial, according to the expected production schedule (as in: you're expected to produce 3 or 4 an hour). Get the client info, find the client's data, write script with given info. Open pro-tools, record script. Lay in music track, mix to mp3 and put into client folder. Send to video production. Close client file, go to next client. Repeat.

As you can guess, the creativity level is pretty low. This is a factory style production studio and you're expected to get up to speed pretty fast. So far, so good. But I've already given up on working part time at TLA on weekends. After the second week (and almost three weeks with no time off), the sudden realization that my (almost) 50 year old body doesn't have the stamina that my 20-something one had. I gave notice and last Sunday was my final day of selling smut to the masses. After almost 8 years and never getting out of the mail room. Plughfhfh.

I don't know if it was the fatigue of working so many days in a row, the knowledge that I was not going to be doing that phone jockey work for much longer or a combination of the two, but for only the second time in my 8 years at TLA, I lost it on a caller. The first time was several years ago when a woman who objected to getting a gay oriented catalog told me she thought all gay people should be shot. I called her a few choice names and hung up. I was told to be a good boy and - since that day - had been. But then came Max.

UNIVERSITY OF XXL IGNORANCE MousepadA quick explanation. Like most mail order companies, TLA buys mailing lists from companies that broker such things. I consider these brokers to be unscrupulous whores that sell their clients off to the lowest bidders, and pad those customer lists with dead people, the ignorant and those who would otherwise have no interest in your products no matter what. TLA once used a swimming suit company's list as a gay mailer address source, and the Customer Service Crew paid dearly for that in terms of abuse. But if you gave to HRC, subscribed to any number of magazines, or bought something through the web, chances are you're in one of TLA's brokers' lists.

Which somehow happened to Max. It was only about one hour into Saturday Morning's shift and I answered a call that started with "You Mother-f---ing Cock-s----ing child molester." I was stunned into momentary silence and then asked "what can I do for you please." He then let loose with a whole combination of profanity laden homophobic insults and finally led to the fact that he got a gay catalog. I responded calmly with "You're a moron but I'll help you anyway." I was then told that I was going the Hell and worked for a bunch of sick bastards and that I would soon have to look God in the eye for what I was doing.

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free
At that point, I not only went militant homo on Max, I went militant atheist homo on him. I told him God was a fairy tale, he was an ignorant hick and if he wanted child molesters, he should go to his closest Catholic Church. Among other things. All while I was still trying to get him to give me his address, which he was parsing out to me between curses, insults and Fox News Bullet Points and the ongoing Child Molestor name calling. I finally got to what state he lived in and he let me know it was Oklahoma. "Figures," I muttered. That really set Max into a whirl.

Idiocracy"It's the likes of you that made the Twin Towers fall" he blurted amongst more Southern insults against us northerners, redneckery and general stupidity. I finally exploded, cursing him out for being a useless idiot in state that should just secede already and take Timothy McVey and his non-Yankee ghost along with him, and please stop using his itty bitty penis as an excuse for not admitting he was a big old cowboy queen in midst of dumphukistan.

At this point, Max hung up. My supervisor was all but screaming in agony over my outburst and figured it was a good idea for me to clock out and go on home. I was happy to, in fact I felt pretty good about giving Max a dose of pissed-off-queer. Although I did enter him into the "Do Not Mail" file. At least if he's going to have an aneurysm, it won't be because he got another TLA catalog. It will be more likely he gets it from exerting himself behind the porta-johns with some rent-boy at a Tea Party Rally.

My Amazon DVD Reviews: 44 Inch Chest

44 Inch ChestThe Diamonds Aren't Forever
3 Out of 5 Stars

Colin Diamond is having a crappy day. His wife of 21 years has left him for a hunky young French waiter. He beat his wife up over this, drank himself into a stupor, destroyed his house, and now he and his friends are holed up in an abandoned building with "loverboy" tied up in a cabinet. One should always beware of sleeping with Papa Bear's honey; he may be a murderous gangster.

This is the premise of "44 Inch Chest," a modest if stagy British film that features a few of my favorite actors. Ray Winstone is Colin, who is hurt, confused, vengeful and unsure of what he should do now that his life is destroyed. John Hurt plays Old Man Peanut, a greasy, profane thug who would be happy to slowly torture Loverboy to death, because that is what real men did back in the day. And then there's Ian McShane, the super cool gay gambler who seems to be the most rational (and therefore, the most deadly) of this band. He's happy to flaunt his sexuality, but not flamboyantly. It's more like a taunt; give him and his "9 and a half" any guff, he'll kill your puny butt and leave no witnesses.

Tom Wilkerson and Stephen Dillane round out the crew, and they all spend most of this movie cajoling Colin into manning up and getting rid of the punk that stole his woman. Other than the set-up and some effective flashbacks/dream sequences, the story plays out in the room where the gang has their hostage. Gangsters or no, this is no action movie. There's a lot of talk about the sanctity of marriage, what it means to be a man, what love means, and about the movie "Samson and Delilah." Frankly, without McShane, "44 Inch Chest" would not be all that compelling. It's time he got a lead of his own.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Split Enz "True Colors"

True Colours...And that's All I Want
4 Out of 5 Stars

Split Enz had a reputation for being an extraordinarily quirky band with theatrical shows and color costumes/hair. With their fifth album, 1979's "True Colors," the band took a sudden sharp turn into power pop; it became their first international success. Led by Neil and Tim Finn, the songwriting focused more on melody than ever before.

History Never Repeats: The Best of Split EnzThat made the songs "I Got You" and "I Hope I Never" huge hits and even found them on the ABC show "Fridays," performing both...and a memorable performance by Tim. They were ahead of the New Wave curve, as these singles were more pop than punk. There were still quirks to be unearthed, as the frenetic "Shark Attack" and the instrumental "Double Happy" indicate. The Finn Brothers also had a flair for the sardonic lyric, with "Nobody Takes Me Seriously" taking lead in that department.

Split Enz were at a crossroads here. They were on the brink of jettisoning their quirkiness for good and becoming a straightforward singer-songwriting band (something Neil ultimately perfected in Crowded House). "I Hope I Never" is a beautiful ballad, but the underlying sentiment is sarcasm (and the frilly piano solo accent that); within a few years they'd be singing the beautiful romantic ballad "Message To My Girl."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: jakob Dylan "Women and Country"

Women and CountryGood songs that needed Rick Rubin
3 Out of 5 Stars

I really enjoyed Jakob Dylan's initial solo album, "Seeing Things." It was a stripped down affair, mostly Jakob with an acoustic guitar turning phrases with cutting skill and bolstered by Rick Rubin's usual zen master of a spartan production job. It was a perfect match. So it would seem that matching Jakob to another American Folk production master, T-Bone Burnett (who also produced The Wallflowers' breakthrough "Bringing Down The Horse") would be a good choice?

Women And Country...Well, not so much. Where Rubin kept the proceedings airy and open, Burnett drenches good songs with thudding bass drums and the kind of mix he gave to "Raising Sand," an album I thought to be overrated. It makes "WnC" an album that could have been great, but now just sounds average. Given the talent on this disc, that's a major waste. Great songs like "We Don't Live Here Anymore," "They've Trapped Us Boys" and "Standing Eight Count" are buried under a sludge that just shouldn't be there. Seeing Things

Don't get me wrong. There are some sublime songs on "Women and Country," and Neko Case is always welcome on anyone's album. She sounds great with Jakob on "Truth for a Truth." But where "Seeing Things" was focused and direct, this album is ambient and meandering. I was hoping for more.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: The Editors "In This Light and On This Evening"

In This Light & On This EveningEditor Mode
4 Out of 5 Stars

I am of the opinion that "In This Light and On This Evening" is The Editors' best album to date. It takes their Joy Division/Interpol roots and pumps up the synths while seriously downplaying the guitars. They also seem more engaged with the songs than on "An End Has A Start." And before you know it, I'm making comparisons to Depeche Mode's "Black Celebration."

As devotees to the new new wave, The Editors have found a solid groove. That much is obvious on the opening track. A pulsing synth may surprise the guitar fans of the prior two albums, but then Tom Smith's deep baritone lets you know that you've got an Editors album on the player. Then comes a big revelation; "In this light and on this evening, London's become the most beautiful thing." Smith's happiness meter has spiked up noticeably on this disc, to the band's betterment. An End Has a Start

That's not to say The Editors have gone completely soft. "Raw Meat/Blood Drool" is a pretty disturbing number. That said, it also has a memorable hook, which is something that categorizes most of "In The Light...". There's an obvious effort to make bigger melodies here than before, along with catchy choruses. Make no mistake, The Editors aren't The Archies. But with this album, they've managed to match their passions with their song-craft. Already one of my faves for the year.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Metal legend Ronnie James Dio dead at 67

Holy DiverHeaven and Hell (Deluxe Edition)LOS ANGELES - Ronnie James Dio, the metal god who replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath and later piloted the bands Heaven & Hell and Dio, has died, according to his wife and manager. Dio announced last fall he was suffering from stomach cancer. He was being treated at a Houston hospital, according to his website.

"My heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7:45 a.m," said a statement by Wendy Dio posted Sunday on the site and confirmed by publicist Maureen O'Connor. Wendy Dio said that friends and family were able to say their goodbyes to her husband, and asked for privacy. She concluded: "Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever."

From The Associated Press

Batman has a problem

My Amazon Reviews: Todd Rundgren "Anthology"

Anthology (1968-1985)Two CeeDees Worth of Tunes  
4 Out of 5 Stars

When he ironically titled and album, "A Wizard, A True Star," Todd Rundgren may or may not have known how prophetic it would be. As a singer, songwriter, one man band, band leader, producer and techno-wiz, he has certainly achieved status as one of rock's great renaissance men. And as the 27 songs on this collection prove, his recorded legacy is truly that of a star.

Rundgren has been a cult artist for so long that he discovered early on that he had free reign to try any style he wanted. Granted, the early songs show a strong Beatles orientation as well as the confessional singer songwriter mode. The Nazz single "Open My Eyes" does show an early Rundgren trait; that of the musical mimic. He was soon mixing rock, soul ("Be Nice To Me"), perfect pop ("Hello It's Me") and the almost effortlessly flawless ballads he created on a regular basis ("It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference"). And that's just disc one.

The Very Best Of Todd Rundgren
The next 15 years is on disc two, and finds Rundgren getting even more idiosyncratic. While the two songs from "Healing" are the single "Time Heals" and the ballad "Compassion," the bulk of the album is almost meditative new age. The album "A Capella" was nothing but Todd. His voice (however heavily manipulated) without any instruments. All while he still covered his rock bases; his last major 'hit' "Bang The Drum All Day" is here.

While his broad recording career will likely have this collection falling short for enthusiasts, Todd's Anthology is as good a starting point as you can find for one of America's great musical visionaries.