Friday, July 30, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Starz "Starz"

StarzYou Say You Want Action?
4 Out of 5 Stars

The 1976 debut album from Starz is one of those great bands that somehow came inside of inches before missing the great brass ring, even though this and the follow-up album, "Violation," were as good as or better than the bulk of hard rock in the period. And having recently noted the passing of seventies Hard Rock Guru/Manager extraordinaire Bill Aucoin, it's also worth mentioning that he and his partner/lover Sean Delaney were the ones who discovered and nurtured Starz (then The Fallen Angels).

They pulled in production legend Jack Douglas and the band set about recording the kind of album they wanted to play along with Aerosmith's "Get Your Wings." They had a pair of hard-riffing guitarists (Richie Ranno and Brendan Harken) a Charismatic lead singer in Michael Lee Smith, a mad-cap mustachioed drummer in Joe X Dube and a solid bassist in Pete Sweval. They already had honed their live act to a point where they were the object of a bidding war, so when it was time to lay the tracks down, the only difference between the album and the demos here as bonus tracks is more weight to the sound and some judicious editing.

Arena ready rockers like "Boys In Action," "Detroit Girls" and "Live Wire" still sound as catchy then as in 1976, and their first attempt at a hit with "She's Just a Fallen Angel" was their attempt at a "Dream On" ballad. "Pull The Plug" was a faux-controversy-bait song that fantasized what Micheal Lee Smith would do if he was Karen Ann Quinlan's boyfriend. (Which got the predicted response from rock haters and defenders of decency everywhere; more press for the group.)

And like so many bands from that stable, they sported a killer logo. Rumor even has it that Kiss pressured Aucion to not sign Starz to Casablanca because they were worried about the competition (and causing a rift between Kiss, Casablanca and Aucoin, but made Ranno and Gene Simmons into admirers of each other - Ranno is on Simmons' solo album). "Starz" is a minor gem of 70's hard rock that, if you have admiration for any of the parties mentioned in this review, should make you happy.

Violation Attention Shoppers Kiss

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: k.d. lang "Recollection"

Recollection 2 CD SetShort Memory
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Almost every song on this double disc "Recollection" of k.d. lang's finest is a gem. I can't argue with any of them. Her voice is a treasure of emotional intensity and vulnerability, and her interpretive skills are with few rivals in modern music. So why not five stars?

Well, frankly, the collection is skimpy. There's easily another half hour's space available between the two discs, room enough for at least one song from "Angel With A Lariat" and "Live By Request" or a couple more songs from "All You Can Eat." Or a few more one-off singles, like her duet with Andy Bell on "No More Tears." At least they did us the favor of only repeating one song from the "Reintarnation" set ("Trail Of Broken Hearts"). Oh well.

However, the second CD of odds and ends totally justifies buying this set. It pulls a batch of songs out of soundtrack obscurity, like her original duet of "Cryin'" from the forgettable Jon Cryer movie "Hiding Out." Or her tear jerking rendition of "So In Love" from the historic "Red Hot and Blue" charity project. There's also a new song, the sweet "Beautifully Combined." And while I am not all that thrilled that two versions of "Hallelujah" are here, you have to admit, her version rivals the late Jeff Buckley's for goosebump inducement.

Overall, "Recollection" is far from a bad collection of k.d.'s work. It's just that there is so much more to hear that I kept waiting for more songs to come out of my stereo once the discs were inserted.

Reintarnation (Dig) Live By Request Red Hot & Blue: Cole Porter Tribute

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

 Dexter: The Complete Season Four Dexter: The Complete Third Season Dexter: The First Season Dexter: The Complete Second Season

My Amazon Reviews: Steve Miller "Bingo!"

Bingo!And Bingo was His Name-O
4 Out of 5 Stars

After being in seclusion or something for almost 20 years, Steve Miller steps out of his time capsule for "Bingo," a celebration of old fashioned frat-party blues. Frankly, I am surprised at just how much I enjoy this CD. It's nothing earth shattering, nothing as transcendent as his seminal 70's output, just solid playing, good singing, polished music with a sense of groove that can't be beat.

In fact, Miller himself takes a backseat for the bulk of the disc's singing. he didn't write any of the songs, which are a collection of blues tunes old and new. One of his most effective moments on the album is when he plays vocal foil on "Tramp" to singer Sonny Charles. It's funky and funny, and a "Bingo" highlight. That kind of vibe permeates the album, be it the party-starter of "Hey Yeah" to the hand clapping "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" that ends it, and you get a guitar slingers album that gets better each listen.

Book of Dreams Fly Like an Eagle Young Hearts: Complete Greatest Hits

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Split Enz "Corroboree/Waiata"

CorroboreePlenty of Profound Performers
3 Out of 5 Stars

Split Enz made their second attempt at world pop domination on this album, the follow-up to "True Colors." "Corroboree" (or "Waiata" for us Yanks who bought in on vinyl in 1981) is not quite as strong as its predecessor, but still has some astounding songwriting from Neil and Tim Finn. But once again, American stardom eluded them, despite such strong contenders as "History Never Repeats," "One Step Ahead" and "Ghost Girl."

It is interesting to me that, as the band lost their eccentric get-ups and stage shows, their music became more and more confident. The opener, "Hard Act To Follow," had the kind of choral hook that most bands would kill for, and the crashing chords on "History" never fail to make me smile. The haunting melody of "Ghost Girl" has stayed with me for almost 30 years, and "Iris" gives hints of balladry to come (like "Message To My Girl" or Neil's later Crowded House songs). The bring down is the inclusion of two - yes two - instrumentals, which then reeked of filler, and today sound like synthed-out 80's trifles.

I have at times wondered if they were under pressure to put this out to capitalize on the US semi-success of "I Got You." Especially after the legendary story that A&M retitled and recolored the album when they determined the title and the color brown would 'put off' American buyers. Dopey marketing or not, "Corroborre" has enough good songs on it to overcome its weaknesses.

 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection (Reis) Recurring Dream: The Very Best Of Crowded House True Colours

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Carole King "The Essential Carole King"

The Essential Carole KingA Songwriting Tapestry
Out of 5 Stars

A delightful collection that offers both essential music and an educational process in the creation of the Great American Songbook. The first disc of Carole King's own productions is wonderful, showing the evolution of King as a writer and performer, the second disc looks at King's mastery of many forms of songwriting and how much she (and often, husband Gerry Goffin) worked innovation into songform.

The first disc starts with a rarity, King's "It Might As Well rain Until September." It was originally written as a hand-off to Bobby Vee, whose record company didn't want to use it. It became one of Carole's first hits in 1962, and sounds like the Brill Building style. But when she moved to California almost a decade later, she had changed profoundly. "Tapestry" became a watershed moment in pop culture; one of the first albums to spend multiple years on the chart, the first female artist to write and hit with her own compositions, a multiple Grammy award winner.

It established King as a star in her own right, and led to many more hits through the seventies. "Jazzman," "Sweet Seasons," "Only Love Is Real" are all here, but the Capitol records period is left out (including her own hit version of "One Fine Day"). The interesting material is the music made in the current decade, like "The Reason" for Celine Dion, where here Dion returns the favor and sings backup. "Now and Forever" was from the movie "A League of Her Own" and is included here in a new version. It's a reminder of how her talent has stayed strong.

The second disc is the eye opening chronicle of her contributions as a performer. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" was an early hit that was one of the first to include strings to a pop record. "Crying In The Rain" was the last big hit for The Every Brothers, but was unique in its early use of internal rhymes. "The Loco-Motion" was a cash-in on the dance crazes like The Twist, bit the open saxophone blast and chugging drums that dominate the recording were new for their time. In the book "Always Magic In The Air" about the Brill Building years and the songwriters, Goffin, King, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann were on a trip and decided to count the number of songs each had written while listening on the radio. King won because "Cryin' In The Rain" played and she had written that with Howard Greenfield had co written it with Carole instead of her husband Goffin.

You also hear the standards. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman," "up On The Roof" to name just three. I have a couple of quibbles, like why Billy Joel's cover of "Hey Girl" instead of Freddie Scott's (or even Donnie Osmond, who at least had a hit with it). And at 15 songs, a repeat of two (like A-ha's international #1 version of "Cryin' in The Rain" or James Taylor's "Up On The Roof") would have been nice. I would have been really tickled to hear The Motels' cover of the controversial "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss." But all together, this is a substantial collection of great music.

Singles 1984-2004 Live At The Troubadour [CD / DVD Combo] Tapestry-Legacy Edition (2-CD)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Amazon DVD Reviews: The Band's Visit

The Band's VisitA Romantic Musical without The Music
4 Out of 5 Stars

"The Band's Visit" is a charming, small film about misplaced people in foreign cultures that manages to have no overbearing message other than we're often more common than we want to think we are. After a language issues accidentally diverts the eight member Egyptian Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra to the middle of nowhere, they have to depends, warily, on the kindness of Israeli strangers.

The Israelis, led by free-spirited Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) separate the band between three families, the staid leader of the orchestra, General Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai) winds up with her. Little scenarios come up that are more gentle than caustic in their conflict, and are often humorous, sometime melancholy. The scene where ladies man Khaled (Saleh Bakri) coaches the shy Papi at the roller-rink in the fine art of the Pick Up is hilarious. The scene where the frustrated composer Simon and his host Itzik dwell over lost idealism is sadly touching.

But none of these scenes is forced or exploitative, while they've had the power to stay in my memory for quite some time. Watching Tewfiq attempt to explain music with his conductor's gestures alone made me love this film, and I recommend it highly for those who don't mind spending time with a movie that opens itself up gradually without banging you over the head.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Amazon Reviews: Paul Simon "The Rhythm Of The Saints"

The Rhythm of the SaintsI can't run, but I can run walk faster than this
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Paul Simon's "Graceland" was a joyous moment of rediscovery, wherein Simon reconnected with his muse and the ecstatic release of music poured out. "The Rhythm of The Saints" is a further venture down that trail, but is missing that integrated feeling that made "Graceland's" songs seem so refreshing. The songs here seem all but academic; a social studies field trip substituting for creative impulse.

There are some pretty good moments on Saints, as "The Obvious, Child" kicks things of with the echoes of its predecessor. So does "Can't Run." But things seems to get dragged down by following songs. Nothing pops out the way several of "Graceland's" songs did, in fact the demo of "Born at The Right Time" sounds better and more engaging than the finalized album track.

Which may be the problem I've had with "The Rhythm of The Saints" over these many years. I was lucky enough to see Simon on this tour, and it was an extravaganza. He had easily 20 plus musicians onstage with him and they created a glorious sound. It was rapturous, beautiful. I was on a buzz for days after. This album sounds sterile, like it didn't get a proper meshing of all the parts. As far as Paul Simon's albums are concerned, it merits a C grade.

Where the image lets down....

Pleasure Principle (Reis)