Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

It's just a turn of a calendar page...a new number to remember to write on checks and correspondence...and yet it's more than that. It's a time of new beginnings...of new possibilities...of new chances to soar as you continue the journey from birth to the light at the end of life (the light at the beginning of eternity however you concieve of it.)

Thanks for visiting Neverending Rainbow. I bid you all who pass this way a bright and bountiful New Year...a 2006 filled with all the love, light, laughter, passion, and peace you could possibly need or want.

namaste, y'all,
Michael K. Willis

Friday, December 30, 2005

Memoirs of a Geisha

There was a remarkable and interesting film that could have been crafted from the often interesting book of the same name…something that could have embraced the undeniable grace, the quiet majesty, the bittersweet humanity, and the tantalizing, sensual mystery of the geisha culture…but, unfortunately, director Rob Marshall didn’t make that movie.

Memoirs of a Geisha is, at times, a quite lovely film to look at…filled with lush colors, lovely scenery, sumptuous locations and costumes, and seductive shadings and tones…but it never really truly engages your complete attention. Part of the problem seems to be that Marshall doesn’t trust his audience’s attention span so he edits what should be a more meditative story of a young girl’s journey from being sold into the geisha house by her destitute parents to being the most acclaimed geisha of her time and place into a maddeningly frenetic hodgepodge of quick impatient cuts, unnecessarily cloying shadows, and haphazard pacing (things that worked to pretty fair effect in Marshall’s entertaining last movie, Chicago, but which were a disservice to the telling of this very different story.)

The performances are fine enough (special kudos to Michelle Yeoh, as the mentor of the title character, who had a fine, world-wary resonance) but the actors seem lost in the process of trying breathe life into their characters, lurching from scene to scene without much real connection to the plot or to each other.

Perhaps the geisha life before and during World War II was like this…filled with casual brutality, almost constant bitchy cat fighting and backstabbing, overwrought duplicity, and, at the end, the plague of loutish, leering, occupying American soldiers…but the movie never made any of it ring true.

A pity…the material was ripe for a thoughtful, sensual exploration but all Memoirs could muster was a tepid, simplistic soap opera that too often looked like it had been edited to be an MTV video.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Random Notes (Pop Culture '05 Edition)

We are the world:
Rock stars, movie stars, and everyday stars (that would be most of the rest of you out there) rally together to raise money and attention for tsunami victims, “third-world” debt, and those impacted by the Gulf Coast hurricanes (among other causes.)

Don’t call it a comeback:
Martha Stewart steps out of the pokey and right back into the swing of things with two new TV shows (one kind of a hit, the other not so much) as well as new endorsement deals, new magazines, and more money than ever. Batman returns in a good movie. Fiona Apple resurfaces with an extraordinary new record. The Rolling Stones put out a record that isn’t an embarrassment (though they should have rethought putting the naïve “Sweet Neo-Con” on it.) Mariah Carey shakes the stigma of Glitter off her career with platinum sales and multiple Grammy nods.

That sweet soul music:
It was a pretty cool year for R&B with the ladies…Mary J. Blige, Shemekia Copeland, Bettye LaVette, Lizz Wright, Sharon Jones, Alicia Keys, Leela James, and others…leading the way.

Pithy social commentary or petulant sour grapes?:
“Reality TV is a festering boil on the ass of humanity” - Brian Dunkleman, erstwhile co-host of the mega hit “reality” TV show American Idol.

Working hard to prove Dunkleman’s point:
Breaking Bonaduce, Being Bobby Brown, The Surreal Life, Strange Love, My Fair Brady, But Can They Sing?, etc., etc. Isn’t there a point where you say “I don’t need to be on television THIS badly!”? (For some celebrities, apparently not.)

He’s with the band:
Rock Star: INXS was a kind of creepy idea but, despite that, it turned out to be a pretty entertaining little show with some interesting performances by singers with varying degrees of potential. The band ended up going with J.D., the guy among the contestants most like their old lead singer, the late Michael Hutchence, which wasn’t that surprising (and yes, that “Pretty Vegas” of his is a catchy song.) Too bad that Switch, the album made by the new lineup, wasn’t nearly as lively or interesting as the TV show.

Now that’s some magic:
J.K. Rowling gets millions of kids (of all ages) to slow down long enough to willingly read a 600+ page book with the penultimate Hogwarts adventure, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Dude, pace yourself:
Ryan Adams releases three new CDs (one a double-disc set!) over the course of the year (Michelle Shocked goes him one better by releasing three new CDs all on the same day in June.)

We’ll have a gay ol’ time:
Melissa Etheridge makes a triumphant return at the Grammys after beating cancer. Ellen DeGeneres continues her comeback as a mainstream pop culture force. Brokeback Mountain provides much fodder for gay cowboy jokes online and on the air. Elton ties the knot with his David. Brothers on the “down low” featured in R. Kelly’s crazed masterwork (see below.)

Move over, “Thriller”:
R. Kelly’s monumental (and totally insane) 12-part soap opera “Trapped in a Closet” takes the prize as the most overblown, so-bad-it’s-almost-good, “what-the-hell-we’re-they-thinking?” music video of all time (sex, guns, incontinent little people, no need for hooks or real song structure, pithy commentary to explain the “complexities” of the tale, what more could we want?)

Thanks for the memories (and rest in peace):
Anne Bancroft, Saul Bellow, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Johnny Carson, Ossie Davis, James Doohan, Will Eisner, Ibrahim Ferrer, Shirley Horn, Peter Jennings, Arthur Miller, Pat Morita, Brock Peters, Richard Pryor, John Spencer, Hunter S. Thompson, Luther Vandross, August Wilson, Robert Wise

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Brokeback Mountain

All other hype aside, this movie is about love. And passion, sometimes rapturously indulged but too often wistfully unrequited by the unforgiving vagaries of time, circumstance, social norms, and personal responsibility.

And it’s about loneliness and fear and the kind of lingering longing and unspoken despair that you really have to have experienced to truly understand.

Ang Lee has crafted an evocative, lyrical, beautifully canvas on which the colors…lush and verdant and passionately expansive when the protagonists are alone together in and about the titular locale; bleak and tattered and filled with cool, plaintive emotional distance most other times…bring life to the spare, almost poetic, story (based on the fine Annie Proulx story with a screenplay co-written by the masterful Larry McMurtry.)

Jake Gyllenhaal is fine as the more effusive (relatively speaking) Jack but the story belongs to Heath Ledger’s Ennis, a taciturn, lonely man who doesn’t know what to do with his true feelings so he keeps them bottled up as tightly as he possibly can. Ledger’s performance is remarkable in its restraint…in the quiet that he effortlessly inhabits.

As the wives of these men, Anne Hathaway and, especially, Michelle Williams are remarkable in displaying palpable emotional range even though they have scant few lines of dialogue between them.

Brokeback Mountain is not an easy movie…it draws you into its world but it doesn’t let you experience it passively…but it is a wonderfully bittersweet, engaging (if you give its slow, deliberate pace and foreboding undertones a chance)…heartbreaking and emotionally-resonant…movie indeed.

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,

Thank you (and your wonderful deputies, my family and friends) for indulging my ever-active pop culture jones with this cool stuff you left under my tree (I very much appreciate the other stuff too, of course, but pop culture is the focus of this particular site.) This should keep me occupied and out of trouble for a little while anyway (gotta start working on staying on your “good” list for next year :-)

Thanks for picking up on my "subtle hint" about The Complete Calvin & Hobbes (especially since it's already hard to find until the second printing comes out in April.) And for giving me lots of delightful music to explore from departed legends Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and Jerry Garcia (hadn't even heard of the Garcia CD...good call, old-timer :-)

Giving is better (the guilelessness of seeing a child's smile when she's opening a Christmas gift is worth more than anything) but I would be lying if I said that getting stuff wasn't fun too :-)

Thanks again, big guy…and enjoy your time off (you’ve earned it!)

Your pal forever,
Michael Keith

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Happy Christmas

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

Thanks for stopping by Neverending Rainbow. I hope that you all have a very Happy Christmas and a bright New Year filled with love, light, laughter, music, joy, and peace.

bread and roses, y'all,

“Happy Xmas (War is Over)”
words and music by John Lennon & Yoko Ono
©1971 Lennon Music/Ono Music

The image is from Cloudeight

Bread and Roses

Christmas Annex 2005

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Project Runway 2

I don’t care…even a little bit…about “high” fashion (not the high-strung designers nor the imperious fashion editors and writers, not the haughty waif-like models nor the self-styled “trendsetters” who dwell in and about the whole fashion industry…none of it means anything serious to me) but, that said, I really like Project Runway.

The first season of the Bravo “reality” show was hoot filled with campy vamping, rampaging egos, pretentious babble from contestants and judges alike, sometimes hilarious and sometimes downright hideous (and, to be fair, occasionally kind of interesting) designs, catty backbiting, and, at the center of it all, “supermodel” Heidi Klum as the frosty mistress of ceremonies dismissing losing contestants with a sharp, clipped “You’re out.”

What’s not to like? :-) (Okay, probably a lot for most of you reading this...but me, I don't mind wasting an hour a week to watch it unfold in all of its tacky "glory".)

The second season (the cast…Ms. Klum, the designer contestants, and the models who have to wear the garments these folks create…are pictured above) has gotten off to even more delightful start with the egos being larger (one guy, who has a VERY high opinion of himself and his talents, pouts outwardly and goes off to sulk if he doesn't come in first with every challenge), the cattiness (including and especially among the male contestants) being sharper and more unabashed, and the outfits being enough to make a fashion-challenged, jeans-and-tee-shirts guy like me just shake his head in amused wonder.

Throw in the fact that Heidi seems to have dozens of stylish maternity outfits (she was pregnant with baby Seal…or, if you'd rather, with her husband Seal’s baby… when taping the show) to share with us all and you’ve got “reality” TV gold, baby! :-)

After the disappointments of this season’s relatively-tepid editions of Survivor and The Amazing Race (not to mention cringe-inducing, “I-can’t-believe-they-really-need-to-be-on-television-THIS-badly” train wrecks like Being Bobby Brown and Breaking Bonaduce), Project Runway 2 has shown up just in time to give hope to those of us who include “reality” TV shows amongst our guilty pleasures .

What Hit Song of 2005 Are You?

My 2005 Song Is

Beverly Hills by Weezer

"My automobile is a piece of crap
My fashion sense is a little whack
And my friends are just as screwy as me"

You breezed through 2005 in your own funky style!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

AFI Awards 2005

Here in the time when critics’ awards sprout up like weeds, the American Film Institute has stepped up to the plate with their selections of the top 10 movies and TV shows of the year.

The Films:
Brokeback Mountain
The Forty-Year Old Virgin
Good Night, and Good Luck
A History of Violence
King Kong
The Squid and the Whale

The TV shows:
Battlestar Galactica
Grey’s Anatomy
Rescue Me
Sleeper Cell
Sometimes in April
Veronica Mars

The AFI certainly likes to keep it eclectic, don’t they? (I have absolutely no idea what Sometimes in April is or was so I guess, according to them anyway, I missed something there.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

2005 Grammy Nominations

The Grammy nominations were announced (in a whopping 107 categories) this morning (instead of the calendar year, the eligibility period for these awards includes discs released from October 1, 2004 to September 30, 2005) and George W. Bush’s favorite rapper, Kanye West, is one of three leading the decidedly mainstream (no surprise there) pack with 8 nominations. West’s protégée John Legend and comeback queen Mariah Carey also picked up 8 nods each.

West’s Late Registration and Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi are in the running for Album of the Year along with Gwen Stefani’s bubbly solo debut Love, Music, Angel, Baby, Paul McCartney’s much-lauded Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (the token non-platinum seller in this category as well as the token veteran comeback that could have also gone to the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, or Neil Young), and perennial nominees U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

The Record of the Year competition features Carey (“We Belong Together”), West (“Gold Digger” featuring Jamie Foxx), and Stefani (“Hollaback Girl”) along with Green Day (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”) and Gorillaz (“Feel Good Inc.” featuring De La Soul.)

Ciara, Fall Out Boy, Keane, and Sugarland will be runners-up to probable winner John Legend (with 8 nominations, they’re gonna give the guy something…the Grammys are like that more often than not) in the Best New Artist race.

Other folks with four or more nominations include Stevie Wonder (always a Grammy favorite), Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent, Destiny’s Child, Gretchen Wilson, Common, Foo Fighters, Gorillaz, Brad Paisley, and The Black Eyed Peas.

There’s not really any point in decrying the Grammy voters giving the nods in major categories to (mostly) mainstream, (mostly) multi-platinum sellers…that’s what they do (and they’re apparently okay with that.)

Sprinkled in amongst the many, many categories are nominations for less-mainstream artists such as The White Stripes, Beck, Solomon Burke, Maria Muldaur, Daft Punk, Ry Cooder, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Emmylou Harris.

And perhaps the most eclectic group of nominees is in the Spoken Word Album category which features Air America host Al Franken, Prairie Home Companion creator Garrison Keeler, legendary cranky comedian George Carlin, prickly Oscar winner Sean Penn (reading Bob Dylan’s Chronicles), and US Senator Barrack Obama.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now

The music industry has responded to the ongoing Gulf Coast Hurricane recovery with benefit concerts, programs aimed at helping New Orleans musicians get back to their music, and, lately, with a handful of fund-raising CDs. I wrote about Dr. John’s effort, Sippiana Hericane, a couple of postings ago.

Branford Marsalis’ Marsalis Music spearheads another disc, A Celebration of New Orleans Music, a sparkling collection of previously released tracks by luminaries such as Aaron Neville, Harry Connick Jr., Jelly Roll Morton, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Irma Thomas, Professor Longhair, and Marsalis himself. Proceeds from this one are donated to the MusicCares Hurricane Relief 2005 fund.

Branford’s older brother, Wynton Marsalis, is the featured performer on the live Higher Ground: Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert CD with performances recorded in September at Lincoln Center. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra is joined on the disc by Aaron & Art Neville, Norah Jones, Diana Krall, James Taylor, Cassandra Wilson, Buckwheat Zydeco, the Wynton Marsalis Hot Seven, and others. The Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Fund is the beneficiary of the net proceeds here.

And then there’s the set pictured above (the net proceeds from which…at least $15 per CD sold…is being shared equally by the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and MusiCares Hurricane Relief 2005) which is a 2-disc, 35-track collection of live cuts, newly-recorded songs, and classic tracks featuring 80+ artists.

Disc 1 starts off with a grand live recording of “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” by the immortal Louis Armstrong. Disc 2 kicks off with “Any Other Day”, a smoothly soulful duet between Norah Jones and Wyclef Jean.

Live cuts on the set include songs by the Dave Matthews Band (“Louisiana Bayou” with pedal steel guitar whiz Robert Randolph sitting in), Bonnie Raitt (with the sassy “I Will Not Be Broken”), Coldplay (the romantic anthem “Fix You”), Sting with trumpeter Chris Botti (a playfully jazzy “Moon Over Bourbon Street”), the Neville Brothers (the stirring “Brothers”), Elton John (the upbeat “I’m Still Standing”), James Brown (the classic “Try Me”), the Winans Family (with the gospel soul of “After All”), and John Fogerty (a potent version of “Born on the Bayou”.)

Aaron Neville joins forces with John Meyer and his band for the beautiful, bittersweet “Heart So Heavy” while Harry Connick, Jr. offers up his own poignant ode to his New Orleans hometown, “City Beneath the Sea”. Chris Thomas King performs a song written in the wake of the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, the thought-provoking “What Would Jesus Do” and Rod Stewart teams up with soul singers Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town for a jubilant a cappella rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready”.

R. Kelly’s offering is a fine inspiration number, “Let Your Light Shine”, while Faith Hill goes to church as well with a rousing take on “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (Ms. Hill also has the most surreal credit lines in the liner notes with nods to the women who do her wardrobe and her hair and makeup for reasons that escape me.) Diddy raps a few lines on “By Faith” and then (wisely) gets out of the way and lets gospel star Fred Hammond carry the rest of the potent song home.

Other tracks here include songs from Van Morrison (a fine tune called “Blue and Green”), Gloria Estefan (a nice acoustic medley of her songs “Coming Out of the Dark” and “Always Tomorrow”), B.B. King, Barbra Streisand, Brian Wilson (a sweetly fragile remake of his own “Love and Mercy”), Josh Groban with Bela Fleck, Clint Black (the apt “When the Levee Broke”), Lenny Kravitz, and the young R&B group Black Buddafly (the lovely, hopeful “Make a Change”.)

The spirit of old New Orleans is celebrated with great old classic tracks from Clifton Chenier (the Cajun swing of “Ay-Te Te Fee”) and Professor Longhair (the joyful “Mardi Gras in New Orleans”.)

The living spirit of modern New Orleans is joyfully invoked by “Goin’ Back to New Orleans” featuring lead vocals and piano by Dr. John along with vocals by the Neville Brothers and swinging solos by Crescent City legends Al Hirt (on trumpet), Pete Fountain (on clarinet), and Charles Neville (on tenor sax).

A handful of all-star collaborations round out this wide-ranging CD: including an infectious track, “We Can Make it Better” featuring rappers Kanye West, Common, Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, and Rhymefest.

The soaring patriotic anthem, “Heart of America”, finds co-writer Eric Benet joining forces with Michael McDonald, Wynonna Judd, and Terry Dexter while a heartfelt cover of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” features the talents of Elton John, Mary J. Blige, Rod Stewart, Gwen Stefani, Velvet Revolver, Steven Tyler, Josh Groban, Ozzy & Kelly Osbourne, Pink, Andrea Bocelli, Gavin Rossdale, Ringo Starr, Phil Collins, and Robert Downey Jr.

The title track, the gospel-like “Come Together Now”, also has an equally unlikely combination of performers as it features The Game, Celine Dion, American Idol alumni Ruben Studdard and Kimberley Locke, Joss Stone, Wyclef Jean, Patti LaBelle, Natalie Cole, Brian McKnight, Aaron Carter, John Legend, Mya, Jesse McCartney, Angie Stone, Kelly Price, Gavin DeGraw, Chingy, Stacie Orrico, and the Backstreet Boys trading off lines and acting as the choir.

The CD is brought to a close, fittingly enough, with a swinging, almost-irresistable version of “When the Saints Go Marching (Back) In” featuring saxophonist Kirk Whalum, trumpeter Roy Agee, bassists Wayman Tisdale and Kyle Eastwood, and rapper Coolio.

The decidedly eclectic assortment of songs and performers on Hurricane Relief: Come Together Now may be problematic for some but I think it’s a cool collection of tunes (most pretty good, some very good, and some downright wonderful) for an extremely good cause. Works for me.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Holiday Music

Okay, bear with me here (this will be kinda long and unabashedly geeky.) It’s December. Thanksgiving is gone and Christmas is a few weeks down the road. I love Christmas and, more on point here, I love Christmas pop music. I don’t know why…I’ve stopped trying to understand it and I just go with it. A burgeoning subsection of my CD collection (60+ titles as of last count) is filled with Christmas CDs…almost every year (including this one) I find at least one or two to add to the ranks.

There are countless Christmas CDs, of course, and they are definitely not created equal. The six discs I’m highlighting here are purported to be the “best”…what floats individual holiday music boats is too subjective to bother with that kind of hubris…but rather a half-dozen cool ways to embrace the musical season (you know you wanna…)

New this year is Joan Osborne’s very tasty Christmas Means Love, a soulful mix of traditional tunes and less reverent yuletide offerings (including the wonderfully sassy “What Do Bad Girls Get?”.) Apparently this one is only available at Barnes and Noble.

Also new is Diana Krall’s swinging, impeccable Christmas Songs featuring a lot of the usual holiday suspects (“Sleigh Ride”, “The Christmas Song”, “Christmas Time is Here”) presented in a relaxed, engaging set aided and abetted by the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. (Not sure why they went for the cheesecake cover but whatever works…)

From last year is the utterly delightful Barenaked for the Holidays by the utterly delightful Barenaked Ladies. It swings from straightforward renditions (including the wonderful “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings” medley with Sarah MacLachlan and a neat cover of “Do They Know it’s Christmas?”) and witty, tongue-in-cheek numbers (the opening “Jingle Bells” starts as a languid piano ballad but after a minute and a half it suddenly kicks into sprightly gear…and they include the “Batman smells” verse…how cool is that? And “Deck the Stills”, a short version of “Deck the Halls” using only the words “Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young” has to be heard to be believed.) There are also some cool original tunes.

Some of the best Christmas discs are compilations and the others on this list are three of my favorites.

First up is the 2-disc, 36-track set Now That’s What I Call Christmas! seriously, it’s a great collection. The first disc is filled with old school Christmas stuff…Nat Cole’s “The Christmas Song”, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling”, the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick”, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, etc…along with a couple of wild cards (“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and the Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth”.) The second disc is more (relatively) contemporary stuff…John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas”, Band Aid’s “Do They Know it’s Christmas”, Bruce Springsteen’s great version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, etc….and features tracks by an eclectic lineup including Paul McCartney, Shaggy, Diana Krall, Britney Spears, Mannheim Steamroller, Boyz II Men, Harry Connick Jr., and ‘NSync.

Time-Life’s Jingle Bell Rock (from 1987…I have no idea if it’s still in print) features 25 tracks of classic pop and R&B. Two tracks each from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, and the pre-wacko years Jackson 5 (a nice cover of “Someday at Christmas” and a cute version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”) plus cool stuff from Elton John (“Step into Christmas”), Chuck Berry (“Run, Rudolph, Run”), Bobby Helms (the title track), the Beach Boys (“The Man with All the Toys”), Booker T. & the MG’s (“Jingle Bells”), Otis Redding (a majestic “Merry Christmas Baby”), and Donny Hathaway (the immortal “This Christmas”), among others.

And, last but not least, A Very Special Christmas, the first of what would become a series of discs benefiting the Special Olympics. There are some fine tracks on subsequent volumes but the first one is still the best. From Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s playful live version of “Merry Christmas Baby” to U2’s yearning “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”…from the Pretenders’ lovely reading of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to Madonna’s playful vamp through “Santa Baby…from Whitney Houston going to church with a mighty "Do You Hear What I Hear?" to Run-DMC’s clever, show-stopping “Christmas in Hollis” everybody on the disc brought their A-game to the party (okay, so Bryan Adams is no Chuck Berry on “Run, Rudolph, Run”, it’s the thought that counts…)

As I said before, I love this stuff so if there’s some cool holiday music out there you think I may not have heard of I welcome you to let me know about it.

Happy Holidays, y’all.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sippiana Hericane

Dr. John, a proud New Orleans native, has crafted a lovely, heartfelt tribute to his storm-ravaged city with Sippiana Hericane, a brief but powerful EP.

This disc starts off strongly with a gospel-flavored chant, “Clean Water”.

It then moves to the heart of the record: the four-movement “Wade: Hurricane Suite” (based on the gospel song “Wade in the Water”.) The good Doctor is in fine form on the keys and lets his playing tell the story throughout this suite.

The first movement of the suite, “Storm Warning”, is a soulful strut using the melody from “Wade in the Water” as its main riff. The second movement, the more ominous “Storm Surge”, finds Dr. John’s supple piano playing off some fluid organ lines and drumming. The third movement, “Calm in the Storm”, is a soothing, hopeful ballad that features some of the Doctor’s loveliest playing. The fourth movement, the churning “Aftermath”, features a soulful choir celebrating the battered but unbroken spirit of the Gulf Coast.

Dr. John returns to the vocals (along with the choir from “Aftermath”) with the loping, bittersweet but proudly inspirational blues of “Sweet Home New Orleans”.

A brief reprise of “Clean Water” closes this tasty little benefit disc (all artist and label proceeds from its sale go to organizations working on the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans including the Salvation Army, the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, and the Jazz Foundation of America.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Amazing Race: Family Edition

The producers of the Amazing Race must have thought that having families (including some with very young children) race would be an interesting twist on the show. They were wrong.

I am an unabashed fan of the Race...teams of Americans running around the world (engendering confused stares and patient bemusement from the natives of the various countries) is often the most interesting and entertaining of "reality" show competitions...but this version (with teams of four family members) has been unwieldy and dull almost from the start.

I tried to hang with it but I find that I don't care who wins...the families I kind of liked have all be eliminated now...and any entertainment value this edition had was totally sucked away by the incessantly-whiny, relentlessly-sanctimonious, and ever-melodramatic Weaver clan (see above) who managed to fritter away any goodwill engendered by the fact that the Dad of the family was killed in some kind of accident on a racetrack (which the producers tastefully exploited by staging not one but two stunts at racetracks) with their oft-referenced, bitchy, snarky, enormously self-aggrandizing version of "Christian" piety.

Hopefully the next Race will be more fun (let's leave the kids home next time, okay?)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Body Acoustic

When the “unplugged” craze hit some years back it was kind of interesting for a while…a singer stripping down his or her music to the basics…coming at that music from a different angle…could be illuminating and entertaining (Eric Clapton, the Pretenders, and 10,000 Maniacs all made fun “unplugged” discs, for example…so did Tony Bennett, but then he was “unplugged” before it was cool.)

But, of course, anything done to excess will quickly lose the sparkle it had at first (and by the time folks were dragging whole orchestras and legions of background singers into their “unplugged” gigs…yes, I’m looking at you, Mariah Carey…it just got to be a silly marketing thing…and, thankfully, it went away.)

In the past couple of months there’s been a mini-renaissance of unplugged offerings. Alicia Keys’ new disc is actually associated with a special edition of the MTV show that started the craze and Alanis Morrissette re-recorded her breakthrough “Jagged Little Pill” acoustically.

And now Cyndi Lauper takes a graceful tour through her catalogue on this lovely little disc. Stripping down some of her biggest hits and some of her most noteworthy album tracks works for Lauper mostly because she is a better…more nuanced, mature, and engaging…singer than she was when she burst onto the scene (during the video-driven 80’s where attitude and the ability to play a quirky character counted more than just mere musicianship.)

The Body Acoustic kicks nicely off with a sprightly, twangy “Money Changes Everything”. Along the way Lauper manages to find new life in an oft-covered tune like “Time After Time” and she slows “She Bop” to a soft, sensual stroll that replaces the playfulness of the original version with a subtle carnality that works quite nicely.

There are guest-stars…Vivian Green and Ani DiFranco joining Cyndi for a feisty, joyful take on “Sisters of Avalon”, Shaggy adding some nice reggae shadings to “All Through the Night”, Sarah MacLachlan on lilting readings of “Time After Time” and “Water’s Edge”, the Japanese pop duo Puffy AmiYumi adding giddy harmonies to a zydeco-flavored romp on “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”…but the spotlight is firmly on our Ms. Cyndi (as well it should be.)

A couple of new tunes: the inspirational “Above the Clouds”, featuring some lovely guitar work by Jeff Beck, and the gently-passionate love song, “I’ll Be Your River” featuring harmony vocals by Vivian Green.

The Body Acoustic is not any kind of creative breakthrough but it is an entertaining disc and that’s just fine by me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The West Wing

Okay, the live debate stunt didn’t really work that well.

It was stiff and stuffy and naïve and even the “spontaneous” bits felt wholly scripted and badly staged (at least that’s the way the west coast edition came off…perhaps the earlier east coast version was more engaging.) It wasn’t exactly what we imagine the Lincoln-Douglas debates to have been (the part where moderator Forrest Sawyer had to shout down the candidates in order to get them to behave was kinda funny) but it would be interesting to see real Presidential candidates facing off like the two fictional ones did here (something that will, of course, NEVER happen in my lifetime…”real” campaigns are even more heavily scripted…and often just as badly staged…as this make-believe one.) It was an interesting effort and I give them credit for taking the flyer on it.

But, all that said, overall the current (and, judging by the ratings since the move to Sunday nights, very likely final) season of The West Wing has thus far proven to be a marked improvement over the first frustrating, unfocused post-Sorkin season (about which more here.)

It’s not back to the heady levels of the Aaron Sorkin seasons (that would be too much to ask at this point) but it is better. That said, it is not really recognizable as the show I fell in love with during the earlier seasons…most of the old regulars have been marginalized (even Martin Sheen’s appearances are few and far between this season, the only actor who has appeared in every episode this season has been the always masterful Jimmy Smits) and the goings-on in the titular environs of the White House are mostly an afterthought taking a backseat to the Presidential campaign between Congressman Matt Santos (Smits) and Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda).

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I guess…but I miss the wit and whimsy, the drama and the pathos, the engaging interplay between the original cast of characters. If the show really does end this season, then it will still have had a wonderful run…especially for those first few, often thought-provoking, sometimes utterly wonderful, seasons…and that’s cool with me.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

But Can They Sing?, they can't.

With But Can They Sing?, VH1 has come up with another way for C-list celebrities to embarrass themselves on national television: a "singing" competition.

Watching the likes of former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, former model Kim Alexis, former Power Ranger Michael Copon, Carmine Gotti, and Bai Ling (the young lady pictured above who writhed her way through a version of Madonna's "Like a Virgin" that stayed proudly out of tune from beginning to end...and no, I don't know who she is either) gamely croak, squeak, and otherwise stomp tunelessly through pop songs would be amusing if it weren't so sad. Nobody should need to be on television this badly.

To be fair, Morgan Fairchild was game covering "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" and Joe Pantoliano's Sinatra impression had a certain cheeseball (though often offkey) charm but for the most part it was a cringe-worthy hour (not at all helped by host Ahmed Zappa's smarmy cheerleading.)

Someone made of sterner stuff than I will have to let me know who "wins" because I'm not going to put myself through any more of this painful offering.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

All That I Am

One would have to be unnecessarily churlish to begrudge Carlos Santana the massive success of his 1999 Supernatural set…the hit singles, the Grammys, the multi-platinum sales, all of it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy or a more talented musician. Bolstered by high-profile guest appearances (Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, and, of course, Rob Thomas), the disc seemed both like a “comeback” (though Santana never really went anywhere) and a well-deserved tribute.

When Santana went back to the well in 2002 with Shaman, the bloom was already off the rose with the guest-star thing…outside of turns by Michelle Branch (on the sunny hit “The Game of Love”) and Macy Gray (on the funky “Amore (Sexo)”), the only real highlights on the disc were the four cuts that just featured Santana and his band. For the most part though, Santana was relegated to the role of playing sideman to lesser talents (Dido, P.O.D., Musiq, Citizen Cope, etc.)

This new collection starts off promisingly with two potent cuts of classic funky Afro-Latin pop…”Hermes” and “El Fuego” (with the like-minded “Con Santana” and the jaunty closing “Da Tu Amor” coming later in the proceedings)…powered by sweetly soaring guitar riffs from Carlos and chanted Spanish vocals.

But then the parade of guest-stars begins anew.

The sprightly “I’m Feeling You” features another fine vocal by Michelle Branch and the ever-remarkable Mary J. Blige sings the choruses of “My Man” (which features nimble rapping by Big Boi of OutKast.) Sean Paul’s dancehall reggae…featuring vocals on the choruses by Joss Stone…on “Cry Baby Cry” melds with Santana fairly well.

Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler steps up to the plate with a tepid power ballad (“Just Feel Better”) that is only saved from MOR hell by Santana’s distinctive playing. American Idol runner-up Bo Bice (how the heck did he get in here? Oh yeah, he works for producer/record label president Clive Davis too) seems strangely out of his depth on the anonymous “Brown Skin Girl” (which compares, unfavorably, to Supernatural’s massive hit “Smooth”.) Anthony Hamilton’s turn on the R&B ballad “Twisted” is somewhat better (though a bit padded at 5+ minutes) but it still doesn’t really sound like a Santana cut.

“I Don’t Want to Lose Your Love”, featuring Santana tour-mates Los Lonely Boys, works well enough despite some hackneyed lyrics. The infectious salsa of the relentlessly positive “I Am Somebody”…featuring of the Black Eyed Peas…is fun largely because it meets Santana on common ground rather than trying to shoehorn him into another style. And the majestic “Trinity”…which features Santana joining forces with pedal steel guitar hero Robert Randolph and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett…is a soaring delight.

All That I Am is not a bad record (it's not great either...but at least it’s better than Shaman)…but I do hope that it’s the end of a "trilogy" and that the next Santana disc has far fewer guest stars and far more pure savory Santana goodness than this one does.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Entertainment Icons of the Century

Variety, the venerable magazine of the entertainment industry, is celebrating its 100th anniversary issue by naming the entertainment "Icons of the Century". There are 100 "icons" named but only the top 10 are ranked in order.

At the top of their list are The Beatles.

The rest of the top 10 are (in order): Louis Armstrong, Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse, and Elvis Presley. (A worthy cross section of cultural and entertainment icons to be sure.)

The other 90 (unranked) "icons" include names such as Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Oprah Winfrey, the Marx Brothers, Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, Cary Grant, Tupac Shakur, Lassie (the only animal in the group...I guess Flipper can't get no love from Variety :-), and Pac Man (who made the list even while my main rabbit Bugs Bunny did not.)

As always, these types of lists are highly subjective (of course) but still kind of fun in a discussion-starting sort of way (I might have put Bob Dylan and Superman in the top 10 instead of James Dean and Mickey Mouse, for example, but I realize that others will have other worthy candidates as well.)

Variety has presented their top 10 entertainment icons of the past 100 years...who would you have put in yours?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Time to Love

It’s been 10 years since Stevie Wonder dropped Conversation Peace, his last studio album. This new disc is therefore a very welcome release indeed (the album is available as a download...on Rhapsody, iTunes, etc.... now with the CD due out in stores on October 18th.)

A Time to Love is, as a matter of course, very upbeat and very tuneful…that is to say classic Stevie. Wonder does things his way…no songs featuring rappers, no samples…and we would expect no less from him.

The album leads off with “If Your Love Cannot Be Moved”, a soulful strut of a duet with gospel singer Kim Burrell, and as the title implies the rest of the 15 tracks all have to do with love (Stevie’s favorite subject.)

The first 10 tracks all deal with romantic love…including the lovely ballads “Moon Blue” (with a lovely piano solo harkening back to “Ribbon in the Sky”) and “Passionate Raindrops”, “From the Bottom of my Heart” (another sweet love ballad featuring some fine harmonica work by Wonder and a rousing chorus), the funky “Please Don’t Hurt My Baby” (a song about a remorseful cheating lover who’s trying to protect his loved one from finding out the true which features witty banter between two groups of background singers…one male and one female), and the slow burning groove of “Tell Your Heart I Love You”.

There’s a slight shift in tone with the inspirational “Shelter from the Rain”, a track that’s been dedicated to the Hurricane victims (with fees from its download going to charity.)

The thickest slab of funk comes here from “So What the Fuss?” featuring background vocal by En Vogue and some guitar work by Prince.

The album finishes with three classic Wonder appeals for peace love: the lilting “Can’t Imagine Love Without You”, followed by “Positivity”, the sprightly paean to looking at the glass as being half full, and closing with the stately title song, a duet with India Arie featuring Paul McCartney on guitars.

Is this a classic album? Probably not. But who cares? It’s soothing, satisfying, joyful musical journey by an artist who’s been delivering the goods for decades…old school soul that defiantly refuses not to sound like just some sad exercise in nostalgia. That’s good enough for me.

Friday, September 30, 2005

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan

My goodness, 2005 has been a downright loquacious year for our pal Bob. First was the long awaited publication of his very Dylan-like…fascinating, frustrating, sober, wonderfully amusing, boldly informative, willfully oblique…memoir, Chronicles, Volume 1. And now comes this wonderful 200+ minute documentary about the early days of Bob Dylan’s career…and his influence on our popular music and our society.

With No Direction Home…shown on PBS and released before that on DVD…director Martin Scorsese and his fellow producers wove together film clips, interviews past and present, and thrilling performance clips to present Dylan not only as a great songwriter and a compelling performer but as a voice of his generation in the early 60’s (a role Dylan vehemently declined to buy into.)

And at the center is Dylan himself…feisty, irreverent, guarded, and acerbic in his younger days, candid and refreshingly straightforward in more recent interviews…looking back on that time (the film ends with his fabled 1966 motorcycle accident) clear-eyed and unwilling to bear any mantle beyond that of being “a song and dance man”.

This film reveals little about Dylan’s life and loves…that part of him is his and, as ever, he chooses keep it just so…and as much as possible about his music and its impact. It’s hard to imagine now, for example, how Dylan’s forsaking being a “folk singer” (just him, his acoustic guitar, and his harmonica) to plugging in as a rock ‘n’ roller (backed in these early days by most of the members of what would later become The Band.) The tumult may seem a bit silly now but it was a very serious, very polarizing event back when it happened and all of that is covered here wonderfully.

No Direction Home is a wonderful document of a certain time that resonates to this very day for fans of Bob Dylan…fans of popular music…and students of American culture and society during one of the pivotal moments (the 60’s) in our history.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Prairie Wind

Neil Young refuses to be tied down. He’s an explorer letting the music take him wherever it will and each new album is a new experience for that.

On one disc you might get the “godfather of grunge” Neil, stomping through joyfully noisy rockers with his most steadfast band of brothers, Crazy Horse. At other times you might experience the Neil finding his way through new sounds…indulging guitar feedback or fronting a big band… sharing harmonies with Crosby, Stills, & Nash or finding common ground with Pearl Jam or Booker T. & the M.G.’s.

And then, of course, there is the quiet Neil…putting his fragile but compelling voice and his introspective lyrics into a sonic tapestry anchored by guitars (slide, acoustic, and steel), harmonicas, and sweet harmonies.

As the title might give away, Prairie Wind is of a piece with other “quiet Neil” gems like Harvest, Comes a Time, and Harvest Moon.

Young’s recent health problems (he was treated for a brain aneurysm during the making of this disc) may have caused him to contemplate his mortality…the lovely “Falling Off the Face of the Earth” and “Here for You” both sound like a valentines/apologies/eternal pledges of love to his wife (who sings harmony on a lot of these songs) and the wistful “Far from Home” (a jaunty stroll propelled by a rollicking horn section and some wailing harmonica work) looks back while asking to buried “out on the prairie” so that he indeed won’t be far from home…but they didn’t rein in his wit (he name checks both Chris Rock and Willie Nelson on the acerbic “No Wonder”.)

“It’s a Dream”, another plaintive love song/remembrance of times past, is informed to nice effect by accents from a mournful string section. The horn section serves a similar function on the title song.

The sweet “This Old Guitar”, a tribute to the everlasting power of music, features harmony vocals by the incomparable Emmylou Harris. The playful “He was the King”, a gently rocking paean to Elvis, showcases Neil at his sprightliest here and it’s a lot of fun.

The album ends on an ethereal grace note with “When God Made Me’, a plaintive hymn with soothing backing vocals by the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Prairie Wind is a soothing, contemplative gem of a record (good job, “Quiet Neil”.)

Friday, September 16, 2005


Mercy...mercy...mercy...'05 is proving to be a good year for sweet soul music (I'm still playing Shemekia Copeland's The Soul Truth all the time) and this record adds to that goodness. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are an ace young rockin' R&B big band (complete with a sassy horn section) fronted by a wonderful old school soul singer...they cook up fat, funky grooves the way it used be done back in the day ("the day" in this case being the heyday of soul music from the 60's and early 70's) without becoming a navel-gazing nostalgia act.

Jones can sing rings around most of the would-be divas on the radio these days and she doesn't have to showboat to prove it. Her warm, earthy voice is equally at home on rockin' numbers as on bluesy, yearning slow jams and she never needs to waste notes on pointless runs and trills.

This disc grabs you with the propulsive opening cut..."How Do I Let a Good Man Down?"...and holds on until the closing blues ballad, "All Over Again". There's a clever duet with Lee Fields (another under-appreciated soul singer) with the playful "Stranded in Your Love" (including a bit of introductory dialogue between the singers like off some classic Stax records LP) and just a bit of naughtiness with the slyly-randy "Fish in my Dish".

"Your Thing is a Drag" is pure James Brown funk and indeed it's too funky for Sunday morning (but it's just right for Saturday night :-)

The disc is, as most great soul records are, mostly about matters of the heart but Jones and the Kings throw a stunning curve ball with a stunning, soulful version of Woody Guthrie's classic "This Land is Your Land".

This is the second album by the band whom, I will be honest, I hadn't heard of until I saw a preview of an upcoming show of theirs in my local paper. Thank goodness for my subscription to Rhapsody which is opening my eyes to a lot of great music I would otherwise miss.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings won't get even a fraction of Mariah Carey's airplay...but man, the radio would be a much more wondrous companion if they did.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Shelter from the Storm

The same people who produced the post 9/11 televised concert/telethon America: A Tribute to Heroes back in 2001 pulled together a similar show, Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast, shown on all of the major broadcast networks and many cable outlets on Friday September 9th. Even some of the performers from the first show...U2, Alicia Keys, the Dixie Chicks, Mariah Carey...returned for this benefit show.

The hour-long show...musical performances interspersed with footage from the aftermath of Katrina and solicitations by stars such as Ellen Degeneres, Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Chris Rock (who couldn't resist impishly teasing the producers by muttering "George Bush doesn't like midgets" just before getting down to the more serious business at hand), and Julia Roberts... solicited donations for the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army (see links below.)

Randy Newman opened the hour at the piano with spare reading of his all-too-apt "Louisiana 1927". This was followed by a rousing version of "One" by U2 with Mary J. Blige.

Alicia Keys was joined by Shirley Caesar, Alvin Sawyer, Eric McDaniels, and a choir for the super-charged gospel of "Remember Me"

Neil Young brought a quiet vibe with the delicate yet stately "When God Made Me" backed by a small choir, while Mariah Carey, backed by another choir featuring children, seemed a bit off during her gospel number, "Carry Me Home".

The Foo Fighters tore into an energetic version of "Born on the Bayou", one of two John Fogerty songs that were part of the program.

Paul Simon offered a tender version of his own "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" which featured a jumping coda by a crack Dixieland band that I think (I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong) was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The Dixie Chicks were joined by Robert Randolph for the heartfelt "I Hope" while Rod Stewart was joined by a group of R&B singers that I did not recognize (and I'm sure I'm going to kick myself when I find out who they are) for the gospel-tinged "All Aboard/People Get Ready".

Sheryl Crow sang a lovely version of "The Water's Wide" while Kanye West, on his best behavior, performed the anthemic "Jesus Walks" (with some new rhymes written specifically for the disaster) surrounded by yet another choir.

Garth Brooks came out of "retirement" to perform the other Fogerty song of the night, "Who'll Stop the Rain" (his fiancee Trisha Yearwood was among the trio of backup singers.)

Dr. John closed the show at the piano with a bluesy stroll through Fats Domino's "Walkin' to New Orleans".

It was a nice little show for a grand cause.

As of this writing, Shelter from the Storm is available for online viewing in the entertainment section of

BET was also running a telethon at the same time but they cut away for the hour to carry this show along with the other networks.

On Saturday night, MTV, VH1, and CMT teamed up for a 4-hour commercial-free benefit show called ReAct Now which presented a wide-ranging cast of pop, rock, hip hop, R&B, and country acts (Melissa Etheridge and bluesman Chris Thomas King both debuted heartfelt new songs written specifically during the aftermath of the hurricane; other performers included this hurricane telethon queen Alicia Keys along with Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Kanye West, Green Day, Alan Jackson, U2, Buckwheat Zydeco, Common, Paul McCartney, the Dave Matthews Band, Big & Rich, the Neville Brothers, Beck, Elton John, Kelly Clarkson, Coldplay, Audioslave, and many, many more.) A number of the performances are available as fund-raising downloads (

Hey, the more the merrier...the Gulf Coast is going to need a lot of aid to get back on its feet.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Home Again

Ric Seaberg has recorded a lovely, heartfelt new song..."Home Again"... about Hurricane Katrina's heartbreaking aftermath. You can hear it on his site
* * * * *

If you want to help:

American Red Cross

Second Harvest

Operation Blessing

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Soul Truth

The blues are all right...especially when they're storming so powerfully...from the body and soul of Ms. Shemekia Copeland.

The daughter of legendary bluesman Johnny Copeland is the real deal. Her new album kicks off with a take-no-prisoners trifecta powerhouse bluesy soul singing at its finest: the aptly-titled leadoff track "Breakin' Out", the unflinching ballad "Poor, Poor Excuse", and the wonderfully rocking and utterly scathing statement on the sorry state of radio, "Who Stole My Radio?" (which, in a better world, would be booming out of radios all over this summer.)

When she follows those gems with "All About You", a pointed and funky kiss-off to an egocentric lover, you're just hooked.

From the sassy self-affirmations of "Uptown Train" and "Givin' Up You" to the swampy black magic of "Honey, Do That Voodoo" to the wistful "Used"(a bittersweet duet with Dobie Gray) Copeland's supple, full-bodied voice is used to dazzling effect (she's a blues shouter who knows when bring it down as well as when to let it rip.) This woman is the real deal.

There are a couple of awkward lyrical patches here and there but those are easily forgiven and quickly forgotten when you're being totally engaged by real heartfelt real honest-to-Aretha soul music.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Battle of the Network Reality Stars

Somebody please make them stop.

Will somebody sit these reality TV "stars" down and tell them that for the VAST majority of them their showbiz "careers" began and ended with whichever reality TV show they were on?

It was kind of cute at first to watch these folks try to parlay a stint on Survivor, Big Brother, The Real World, Temptation Island, etc., etc. into a real Hollywood career but as their number continues to grow it's not so cute anymore and the straws they're grasping this retread of the Battle of the Network Stars series of specials from the 70's (featuring TV stars...real honest-to-goodness actors!... of the time) which had a certain cheeseball charm to them (watching Welcome Back, Kotter's Gabe Kaplan needle The Wild, Wild West's ever-petulant Robert Conrad into sputtering fits of rage was worth the time spent watching in and of itself)...are increasingly flimsy.

Look, I really like some of "reality" TV...but only for what it is (that being wholly contrived exercises full of what David Letterman would call "stupid human tricks".)

And I even have a certain amount of fondness for some of the people participating in Bravo's Battle of the Network Reality Stars (Charla, Chip, and Kim from Amazing Race, Ryan from American Idol, and the charmingly gonzo "Dr. Will" from Big Brother, for example)...but, that said, I really had no need to see any of them participating in faux athletic events.

(And to be sure I never needed to see most of these desperate would-be celebrities in ANY context ever again...and yes I'm looking at you Richard Hatch, Omarosa, "Bachelor Bob", Amazing Race blowhard Jonathan and his spousal-abuse-victim-to-be Victoria, the ever-charming Sue Hawk, the conniving Project Runway designer Wendy Pepper, and "Joe Millionaire".)

Of course it could be worse I suppose. The folks over on E!'s Kill Reality are making a real "we're-gonna-put-it-in-the-multiplexes-(or-failing-that-on-DVD)" movie...a horror movie (insert your own joke here)...with another group of reality TV "stars" (including "Johnny Fairplay", Ethan, and one of the many Jennas from Survivor as well as, again, "Bachelor Bob" Guiney as a crazed slasher.)

*Sigh* I guess it's too late to make them stop...the celebrity bug has bit them and they're not going to stop until they make it to the top! Or at least to the bottom of the middle...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Tristan Prettyman's debut CD is like a cool breeze on a lazy summer's day. Her voice doesn't have great range but it has remarkable expressiveness; if pressed, I would say that her music something like a sprightly, very appealing, blending of Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, and Edie Brickell. But, that said, her voice is her own and wonderful enough at that.

Her songs for hopeful romantics still free from cynicism about affairs of the heart... lope along pleasingly, anchored by shimmering acoustic guitars and her heartfelt vocals. She is equally at home on the midtempo songs that dominate the disc and on the ballads interspersed along the way.

From the summer pop swing of the opening "Love Love Love" to the beguiling lilt of "Shy That Way" (a duet with Jason Mraz)...from the subtly humid longing of "Electric" to the soft sway of the closing "Simple as it Should Be" (with some tasty harmonica work by G. Love)...Prettyman offers a solid collection of pretty and pure pop songs (and what more could you ask than that? :-)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Rolling Stones

Anyone who is now...or has ever been...a fan of the Rolling Stones can point to an album when they decided that the band had "jumped the shark". Where they say, with both sadness and resignation, that every Stones album since (fill in the blank) has been...oh let's be charitable and say "uneven". For me that album was Some Girls way back in '78. Since then, their albums have been mixed bags...flashes of brilliance surrounded by lots of lazy dross. They turned from a great album band to a good singles band. And so when the Stones decide it's time to churn out a new record and hit the road to fatten up their coffers, it's not something that brings the anticipation it once might have.

The announcement of their upcoming disc...A Bigger Bang...barely registered with me so when three "singles" were released online (, I listened to them not expecting that much. I was pleasantly surprised...though, that said, I remain cautious (they've suckered me in before :-)

The three songs are all different styles but they all show the old dogs in fine form...playing like the music really matters. "Rough Justice" is a balls-to-the-walls rocker that harkens back to the Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main Street era. "Streets of Love", an earnest power ballad, has a great vocal by Mick Jagger and a nimble solo by Keith Richards. "Back of my Hand" is a swampy blues number that works despite some awkward lyrical passages.

Three songs do not a great album presumes they're putting their best foot forward with the release of these tunes...but it makes me more interested in hearing A Bigger Bang than I would have been otherwise. We shall see.