Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Kris Kristofferson "Closer to The Bone"

Too Close for Comfort
2 Out Of 5 Stars

Let's not mince words here. Kris Kristofferson's voice is shot. 'Closer To The Bone" still exhibits his ace songwriting chops and Don Was produced it as stripped down as possible, but you can't escape the fact that Kris' voice has lost its range, enunciation and - sadly - the gruff, whiskey soaked potency of his golden years. I'd love to hear someone pluck the better songs (the title track, "Let The Walls Come Down," "Love Don't Live Here Anymore") and cover them with the melody intact from how they were intended. The songwriting is what keeps "Closer to The Bone" from dipping below two stars.

However, not every elder statesman gets to do what Johnny Cash managed to do (or even Glen Campbell). This album just makes me more sad than anything else, because the man who wrote "Me and Bobby McGee" and sang "Sunday Morning Coming Down" should be left with his legend intact. "Closer to The Bone" diminishes a major, historic talent. Were this anyone but Kris Kristofferson, I have a feeling the ecstatic 5 star reviews on Amazon wouldn't be so glowing.


Monday, October 29, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Gregory Gray "Strong at Broken Places"

Stronger than known
4 Out of 5 Stars

Gregory Gray made three solo albums and has been releasing tracks under the nom de tune "Mary Cigarettes" for a few years now. "Strong At Broken Places" was his second album and released on the Atco/Atlantic in 1990 when the company was trying to resurrect the Atco label (and made the place the home of AC/DC for a time). While Gray has little else in common with AC/DC, his album deserves your attention all the more.

He has the songwriting sensibilities of Randy Newman at his most biting and recalling the Pet Shop Boys at his most buoyant. Producer Davitt Sigerson (and later, Stephen Hague) frames Gray with modern sounding synths and often danceable rhythms. There's even a dabble of reggae on "People Are Hard." But Gray is at his best when he's either out to party ("Universal Groove," "Things Ain't Always What They Seem") or wax cynical. On the brilliant "When The Music Turns Into Money," he rails against an industry that he wants to crack, ending up singing without any missing irony "I'm a goldmine, I'm a gold mine." It's sublime and subversive at the same time.

Gray also tries his hand at commercial pop (his first album hasn't even seen a CD release, it vanished so completely) on "The Fun Has Just Begun" and "Easier Said Than Done" and rocking a bit on the closing "Coming Back For More." That song is when he loses the high croon for a Bowie Belter and does so convincingly. All this makes "Strong At Broken Places" on of those good albums to slip through the cracks. It may not been as strong as the follow-up, the gay-centric "Euroflake In Silverlake," yet it stands the test of time better than may albums from the same period.


Hurricane Sandy Visits out Driveway

We were lucky in that the car appears to be undamaged but the wind shield is cracked. I cleared it off with a handsaw, enough so Joel could get the car out and go to work.

So far no power outages. Joel will be at his job overnight, I will be home.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Donna Summer "Bad Girls"

Toot Toot, Hey, Beep Beep
5 Out of 5 Stars

Disco was always a producer's medium. Most of the records were based on a single, often made by studio musicians and just as often, not being capable of following things up. Donna Summer was part of that machine for her first few albums, which often seemed lackluster in comparison to her vibrant, catchy hit singles. But then came "Bad Girls." Summer was still teamed with a simpatico producer (the trendmaking Giorgio Morodor), but she had become the closest thing Disco had to a reigning star (quick, other than Village People, name one disco act with a lasting and recognizable career), and for the first time, an album that hung together as an entire piece. And not just a single disc, either. "Bad Girls" roared out of the box as a double disc collection.

Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" took all the tropes of disco (throbbing beats, swirling strings, catchy hooks) and made it into more than just the hits. Summer also pushed the medium by going outside the dance floor with ballads ("On My Honor"), straight ahead pop ("Dim All The Lights") and electric rock meld with the dance material (Jeff Baxter's red-hot solo in "Hot Stuff," preceding Eddie Van Halen with Micheal Jackson by a decade). Tie it to a concept about creatures of the night and the whole city scene, and you had disco's first bona fide ground-breaker. Summer helped by having the chops to carry the album vocally, while Morodor jumped effortlessly from dance to his patented Euro-sound and the poppish ends of the album.

There was much more than the classic singles. "Sunset People" would have been a hot had the times been concerned about over-exposure for albums (same with "Walk Away," a minor hit nonetheless), while closing the album's concept about waking up on the strip and seeing a new day dawn with promise. "Dim All The Lights" continued the new idea of starting a dance-floor smash with a slow into and hitting the meat of the song with a blast (think "Last Dance" and "On The Radio"). "Like everybody else," she belts on the title track, "they want to be a star." So did Summer, and "Bad Girls" said it all across two long players. Perhaps her artistic peak as a singer and writer, it's also her best album overall.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Adam Lambert "Tresspassing"

Border Smashing
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Adam Lambert is the real thing. He is charismatic, flamboyant and sings his @ss off. He isn't here to make you like him, he's here to make you pay attention. He's not just there to shock you, he's here to make 100% certain that he was all everyone talks about afterwards. And they do. For days. Lambert laid it all on the table; from his sexuality to his theater background, all so you'd take notice. There hasn't been someone so blatantly lunging fists first at rock stardom since Billy Corgan smashed his pumpkins. And his new album is even better than the debut.

"Trespassing" quits the all-over-the-place song-styling of "For Your Entertainment" and concentrates on dance-rock. He cuts right to the chase on the title track and opening song, where he pounds out a drum/bass line worthy of Queen and states up front "No Trespassing, yeah well my *ss, wait till you get a hold of me." Make no mistake, Adam is out to make you dance (Nile Rodgers and Sam Sparrow guest on the slinky "Shady") while "Pop That Lock" trades on both dance and EDM style without giving up an inch of Adma-style. That may be because this time, Lambert has songwriter's credit on almost all the disc's tracks, as opposed to "FYE," where almost every song was outsider composed and usually by a star/stunt guest (Pink, Weezer, Justin Hawkins of the Darkness, etc).

Even the outsider songs have punch. "Better Than I Know Myself" continues the formula of the ballads like "Whataya Want From Me" from the debut. There's a cathedral of multi-tracked Lamberts and a climaxing production. Same with "Never Close Our Eyes," a Bruno Mars song that has a plenty of soul. Lambert explores both his vocal range and his emotional one on "Trespassing," with two ballads, the interesting "Underneath" and the stunning closer "Outlaws of Love." Without saying it explicitly, it's the main exploration of Adam's out-ness, (or the night after the party ends, you choose), but is sure sounds like a defensive pose in favor of relationships.

The funny thing is, "Outlaws" may be the album's most restrained performance. Adam maybe be the kind of man for whom over-the-top is merely a barrier to be conquered as often as possible, but when he "they say we'll rot in hell, well, I don't think we will. They've branded us enough, Outlaws of Love." As stunning as he is when he's glamming it up on the dance floor, Adam can be more effective when he's pulling back on the reins. He'll be doing some dates as Freddie Mercury with Queen this year, but the Adam Lambert of "Trespassing" is his own man now.


Monday, October 22, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Gotye "Making Mirrors"

Smoke and Mirrors
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The American breakout of Gotye is an interesting if slight work. The freaky breakthrough of "Somebody That I Used To Know" knocked top 40 world on a loop. Here was a song that didn't have auto-tune, manufactured beats, and you sure couldn't dance to it. (In fact, some radio stations took to adding drum tracks to try and force fit the song that was too popular to deny into the narrow confines of their station's sound.) The man had a voice that fell somewhere between Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. By all accounts, "Making Mirrors" shouldn't be a hot number in the age of Justin Beiber and "Call Me Maybe."

Yet it was. "Making Mirrors" is now the unlikeliest hit album of the summer because of that. I just don't know how Gotye will be able to sustain his success. I keep thinking of The Dream Academy back in the 80's, when one unlikely but sublime single catapulted an album into hitdom, but doomed the followups. The songs here are not awful by any means, but the quirky, xylophone sampled "Somebody That I Used To Know" is the outstanding song among the crop. There are plenty of clever bits to be found, like the Kraftwerkian "State of The Art" while the Mowtown/Phil Collins ringer "I Feel Better" could make a decent radio tune.

I just can't find much beyond these songs to recommend the rest of the CD by. Gotye makes nice pleasing pop without the trappings of modern recording technology (minus the sample-happy construction), but he's no Kei$ha, you follow? However, the depth issue might limit his likelihood of sustaining a career, much less making a solid, better than C-grade CD.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Passings; Sydney Manekofsky

Hello All
Joel's father Syd passed away at about 6:20 this morning. Joel was not with him as he was anticipating having to do his weekly services Friday night, but had been there the night before. We had house gests as well, so Joel is down there now while I will be there Sunday.
Syd would have been 91 in 6 more days. As you may recall, we had a big 90th birthday party for him last year.
This was the video I'd prepared for him then.

He's in a better place now. Thank you for all your love and thoughts.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Shoes "Ignition"

First Chance This Century
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Eighteen full years since their last album, "Propeller," (there was also Jeff Murphy's solo "Cantilever," the live "Fret Buzz" and a few archival reissues), the true pride of Zion Illinois return with "Ignition." The Shoes haven't aged at all since the 70's it seems, with the sugar coated hooks, candy coated harmonies and buzz coated guitars all remaining intact since the late 70's. That is not to say Shoes have not matured, but if you though their brand of Power Pop had gone extinct, "Ignition" will reignite that passion for all things dreamy buzzed.

First things first, though. "Ignition" is almost maddeningly uneven. I get the feeling this might have been better as a 10 song album, as many of the songs miss the immediacy of those classic early albums. Jeff and John Murphy and Gary Klebe still can harmonize like nobody's business and that often overcomes for the weaker of the songs. Besides, when your vision of pop includes both The Beatles (almost any given track here) and The Stones (the whiplike snarl of "Hot Mess"), it's enough to give a power pop geezer like me the frickin' vapors. You also can't help but get giddy from the wonderfully constructed "Out Of Round," recalling some of the brilliant ballads from the genius trilogy of "Present Tense," "Tongue Twister" and "Boomerang."

Okay, I am hyperventilating a bit. But as a one-time card carrying member of Shoes' fan club and a follower since "Black Vinyl Shoes" days, I'd pretty much guessed that these guys had called it a day. Perseverance and talent will out in the case of "Ignition." I don't know how far past the band's long suffering core of true believers will get this, but anyone who still slaves over their old copies of Pezband, 20/20, or other basic 4 member combos that looked towards "Rubber Soul" or "Revolver" as their lodestones should pick up "Ignition."

Choice cuts also include "Diminishing Returns," the melancholy "Only We Remain," the kick-off "Head Vs Heart" and "Say It Like You Mean It."ALSO: New best of!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Duran Duran "Big Thing"

Give Me the Playlist and Watch Me Eat It,
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming off the horn heavy funk of "Notorious," Duran Duran the trio stripped the sound down to some heavy beats for "Big Thing." The first single, "I Don't Want Your Love," sounded like a re-invention. Incorporating the current house and new-jack dance trends at the time, it was a major leap away from the candy-floss of "Rio." "All She Wants Is" carried the same sort of dance-floor urgency, and the title track was an arena ready thumper.

But the trademark lushness wasn't ever too far off. "Too Late Marlene" and "Land" are everything you'd expect from Duran Duran, rich arrangements, Simon's grandiose lyrics and Nick Rhodes' atmospheric keyboards. But perhaps "Big Thing's" best moment is the tribute to the band's late friend Alex Sadkin, "Do You Believe In Shame." Slowing down the swamp groove of "Suzie Q" and laying in an emotional vocal, "Shame" connects on a level that only a few songs in the DD library have ever done before. The remaster also brings out the nuance of these two songs.

The second disc is for serious collectors. Compiling many of the dance remixes and US single mixes of assorted songs, it's a hoot for collectors. (The double disc version of "Notorious" manages the same feat.) For my money, "Big Thing" is equally as good as "Notorious," and in my opinion, better than the "Wedding Album."