Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Glee Cast "The Graduation Album"

Graduation of Glee
3 Out Of 5 Stars
I'm not sure why the cast seems so slighted on the Glee Graduation Album, but this leans very heavily on the "senior class" of McKinley High. It also pulls very hard on the pop spectrum, which leaves the usual mixture of classic songs, show tunes and current pop off this disc. For instance, Artie is totally absent. Santana and Brittany are merely background this time. No songs from the warblers or other groups, and no Sue cameos.

Which blands the material out significantly. "The Graduation Album" is more like a K-Tel album than the usually well balanced Glee offerings, saved mainly by Matthew Morrison's excellent reading of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" (made popular by Rod Stewart) and Lea Michelle doing a great take on Beyonce's "I Was Here." Often, though, some of the songs sound like karaoke ("Glory Days" being the worst offender) or uninspired (a totally unnecessary "We Are The Champions"). Given a couple of highlights of the year's season not on disc ("Paradise By The Dashboard Light," "Mean"), some of the overused artists (Madonna again?) could have easily been bumped. It makes me wonder if there will be another offering before the new season starts.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Passings: Larry Hoppen, Founder of Orleans

Larry Hoppen, founding member of '70's pop-rock band Orleans, died Tuesday (July 24), at 61. The singer and guitarist's death was announced earlier today by his wife, Patricia Hoppen, though the cause of death is still be investigated."For those who don't already know, Larry passed away yesterday ... those of you do know me, you can message me," his wife wrote. "For his fans, I am deeply sorry for YOUR loss. I know he will be missed. I will (ask) that my family's privacy be respected during this horrible time."

Orleans was founded in Woodstock, NY, in 1972, and released their best-known album, Waking and Dreaming, in 1976, which featured their Billboard charting hits "Still the One," "Forever" and "Love Takes Time."

"Words cannot express the depths of my sorrow," said Hoppen's brother and Orleans bandmate, Lance Hoppen, in a statement. Orleans was celebrating their 40th year as a band, and had been scheduled to perform Friday morning (July 27) on the "Fox & Friends" television show, with several live dates lined up over the weekend. In addition to his wife, Patricia, Hoppen is survived by his daughters, Claire and Maeve, brothers Lance and Lane, and sister Lynda. (Via

I saw them open for Chicago in the 70's, and met them backstage. They were wonderful to me, and this makes me sad.


My Amazon DVD Reviews: "Grizzly Man"

Talking about the good life in the foodchain
4 Out Of 5 Stars
Werner Herzog was given a strange mission with the film, "Grizzly Man." How do you take 100's of hours of tape made by a delusional, self-centered and mentally imbalanced man who is ultimately killed (along with the poor woman he drags along after him) by his obsession with Alaskan Grizzlies and make him someone somewhat sympathetic? The documentary manages to do just that, with Herzog inserting himslef as a conscience/narrator into the tapes of naturalist and self-described "kind warrior" Timothy Treadwell. For over a decade of summers, Treadwell would haul himself to Alaska, embed himself in a State Park and try to become one with the grizzlies.

Yes, you're right...anyone with a lick of sense would see this as a fool's errand, and the movie doesn't even bother to hide that fact by mentioning at the beginning that Treadwell and lady friend Amie Huguenard become lunch for a "bear full of people and clothes." Treadwell fails to recognize what Herzog knows by instinct and a few millenniums of evolution; nature is "chaos, hostility, and murder." Treadwell looks at nature as some sort of Disney-fied harmony, where if you just dance with the animals, they'll be your friends and all will live in the big unity of the universe. This despite ample evidence to the contrary (adult males eating cubs to foster mating with females, the killing of one of his fox pup 'friends'); Treadwell rails on about the bear world versus the people world.

Herzog keeps Treadwell from looking like a blithering idiot by balancing some of the most intimate footage you'll probably ever see of bears in the wild and commentary from both the friends and enemies of Treadwell, and ultimately sacrificing an opportunity to exploit Treadwell and Amie's death. A narcissist to the very end, Treadwell had a camera running even as he and Amie were being attacked and killed, and Herzog makes the decision to not include the audio (the lens cap was still on the camera) or include the pictures from the coroner, going as far as to implore one of Treadwell's few friends to destroy the final tape and never look back. It's Herzog's sense of compassion for his subject (aided by a terrific score by guitarist Richard Thompson), even as he understands the madness, that makes "Grizzly Man" so compelling.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Paul & Linda McCartney "Ram"

McCartney's Solo Masterpiece
5 Out Of 5 Stars
Finally. In the slow trickle of Paul McCartney reissues, we get the second of his masterstrokes as a solo artist. "Band On The Run" marked his finest work under the Wings banner, but it was "Ram" that set the bar so very high for his work after the demise of the Beatles. Since 1971, "Ram" has only gained in stature, remaining the most Beatles-like of his solo albums, and is the lone album Paul and Linda McCartney are credited on as artists together.

"Ram" is something of a wedding album, with Linda's presence as songwriter and prominent back-up vocalist. It's also a continuation of McCartney's one-man-show albums, with guest players credited but not attributed to any particular songs. The songs themselves are freewheeling odes to love ("Backseat of My Car"), life ("Heart of the Country") and proving to those who doubted that he could both rock ("Monkberry Moon Delight") or knock-off an appropriately Beatles-sounding single without any help from his former teammates ("Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey").

Something else the re-issue does is prove McCartney's ear for good sound; the remastering makes you wish more of the current flock of producers/engineers gave a whit about the spaces between the notes and the atmosphere of your recording. Just the strummed opening and Paul's "hey hey hey" opening are enough to give you goosebumps. The whole album does what not many can do in this day and age, and that's make an album that holds together as a full piece. Even if the album before this (McCartney) seemed ramshackle and rambling, "Ram" erased all doubts that Paul was capable of delivering an album that both lived up to his prior work and would establish him as an artist on his own.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: John Mayer "Born and Raised"

Born to be Grammy Bait
5 Out Of 5 Stars

John Mayer's public mea culpa comes musically, a whispered plea for understanding after some serious public bumbling of his life. Who knew that, when his musical world finally had a collision with the paparazzi word, it would humble the guy into making the stellar music of "Born and Raised"? It's the first album he's made where what used to be affectations towards the singer-songwriters of the 70's that John's long been enamored by become genuinely personal and effective.

You can't blame the man for wanting to make something other than knock offs of his heroes. He may have been extremely good at doing just that, but now he wants to be the man who - as he states in the song "Queen of California" - finds the "sun that Neil Young Hung after the gold rush of '71." The pallet he is drawing from is serious CSNandY and James Taylor turf, yet now he sounds less like he's rubbing shoulders with them and more like he's proving he can make music that spiritually accentuates his forebears. Those public slaggings have obviously made him want to try harder, and left their stings. "Now the cover of Rolling Stone ain't the cover of a Rolling Stone," he realizes in "Speak for Me."

"Born and Raised" also chucks aside any attempt at overproduction (no loudness wars here) for a spartan acoustic setting. "Whiskey Whiskey Whiskey" begs for quiet in a life that was filled with too much background noise, along with a great harmonica riff. Same with "If I Ever Get Around to Living," as blatant a confirmation that trials by fire are something that need to be part of the past. The bulk of the album is spent in these contemplative moments, and it all rings true. It's not only Mayer's personal best, it maybe one of 2012's classiest albums.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Jason Mraz "Love Is A Four Letter Word"

Love is a Three Star Rated Album
3 Out of 5 Stars
Jason Mraz is a simple pleasure when it comes to music. His reggae lite "I'm Yours" became the best Jimmy Buffet knock off in years, so it's only natural for him to want to go for that groove again. "Love Is a Four Letter Word" is just that kind of a record; easy listening for the vegan crowd, a happy but not sappy set of songs and at least one attempt at cloning "I'm Yours" with the single "Living In The Moment." Then there's the Jimmy Buffet comparison, the other single, "I Won't Give Up." Mraz is - in his own words - "easy breezy" ("Living for The Moment") in a way that makes Jack Johnson sound like Ronnie James Dio. He weaves in-between the happy pop of "Frank D Fixer" or the weariness of brokenhearted pop in "In Your Hands" without sounding like he's committed to very much. "Love Is A Four Letter Word" will fill the needs of those who think John Mayer has gotten too cerebral or who were too young to catch Jimmy Buffet on the first go around.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Queen "Flash Gordon Soundtrack"

Flash! Naahhh!
2 Out of 5 Stars
A Cheesey soundtrack for an even cheesier movie, this album arrived a mere six months after "The Game" began establishing itself as Queen's biggest American album. But let's not kid ourselves about this one; "Flash Gordon" is a mish mash of dippy synthesizer effects, Freddie Mercury wailing away operatically, and snippets of the film's campy dramatic dialogue. The theme itself is classic Queen, with the powerful "Flash! Ah Ah! Savior of the Universe!" The bonus disc offers the single version, with almost a minute of Ming The Merciless's dialogue chopped off, and a rework of "The Hero" to a single-like version (again, minus dialogue).

As Queen albums go, this is the bottom of the stack. Guess I am too nostalgic to not have bought it, and the bonus disc offers some good stuff, which is why I offer two stars instead of one. "Flash Gordon" is more a soundtrack that features Queen music than an album by Queen themselves. For that, get the pseudo "Highlander" soundtrack, "Kind of Magic."