Friday, April 28, 2006

Living with War

I'm living with war in my heart
I'm living with war in my heart and my mind
I'm living with war right now

Don't take no tidal wave
Don't take no mass grave
Don't take no smokin' gun
To show how the west was won
But when the curtain falls, I pray for peace
Try to remember peace

There’s nothing ambiguous about Neil Young’s feelings about the war in Iraq, the Bush Administration, and the United States…he hates the first, he deplores the second, and he loves the third but thinks it (that is to say, we) could do better than we’re doing when it comes to decrying the first two.

Living with War (as of this writing, it’s only available for streaming from the major online services) is a nakedly political, scathing firebomb thrown into the mix of the ongoing discussion about the war and its consequences. This is a record designed to incite passions all along the political spectrum.

Musically, this 10-track set…recorded quickly and very recently (the first session was in late March)…is a great rock and roll record. In places it flat out rocks with the grunge-y kick of some of Young’s better electric records (as opposed to the somber mood of records like last year’s Prairie Wind.) The sound is created by a compelling combination of guitar, bass, and drums along with trumpet and a 100-voice choir.

The title song has lovely choral vocals over a solid mid-tempo rocker (featuring some grand fuzzy guitar licks.) “Shock and Awe”, which features both a solid guitar riff and some sterling trumpet solos, feels like an acerbic companion piece to “Rockin’ in the Free World”, Young’s fierce broadside against the first President Bush back in the late 80’s while the compact “Families” hits the ground running and never lets up. The current President Bush is taken to task in the less-than-subtle “Let’s Impeach the President” (which features sound clips of the President talking about war, Saddam Hussein, the Patriot Act, WMDs, and other things Young labels as “lies”):

Let’s impeach the president for lying
And leading our country into war
Abusing all the power that we gave him
And shipping all our money out the door

He’s the man who hired all the criminals
The White House shadows who hide behind closed doors
And bend the facts to fit with their new stories
Of why we have to send our men to war

The President is targeted less directly on “Looking for a Leader”, which talks about looking for someone to “re-unite the red, white, and blue before it turns to stone” (Young wonders if that new leader might be a woman or a black man…name-checking Barack Obama and Colin Powell along the way as possible candidates.)

“Flags of Freedom” is a clever, audacious update of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” (Dylan is name-checked in the lyrics) with an insistent backbeat and a tasty harmonica solo.

The set ends with the choir offering up a gorgeous, wistful, un-ironic version of “America the Beautiful” as its shimmering grace note.

This is a passionate, heartfelt, angry, hopeful, defiant record and that remains true whether you agree with Young’s politics or not.

“Living with War” and “Let’s Impeach the President”
words and music by Neil Young
©2006 Silver Fiddle Music (ASCAP)

Monday, April 24, 2006

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

I have to admit that when I heard that Bruce was making an album of folk song covers my first reaction was that we were in for something along the somber lines of the wondrous Nebraska or the less-enthralling The Ghost of Tom Joad. But Springsteen and his cohorts on We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions are not in a somber mood…quite the contrary they are in a mood to make a joyful noise and by golly that’s exactly what they do.

For the most part, Springsteen eschews the political songs associated with Pete Seeger (the anti-war track “Mrs. McGrath” being an exception) in favor of engaging, high-steppin’ versions of some of the folk songs Seeger recorded over the year…including traditional chestnuts such as the classic “John Henry”, the charming “Froggie Went A-Courtin’”, the inspirational “Eyes on the Prize”, “Jesse James”, and the rollicking gospel burner “O Mary Don’t You Weep”.

Springsteen (who brings a playful, almost Tom Waits-like growl to some of the tunes) sounds like he’s having a ball as he leads a crack band of 13 players (on violins, horns, guitars, keyboards, and vocals) through 13 songs associated with Seeger. The only members of the E Street Band involved here are violinist Soozie Terrell (who plays on all cuts) and Patti Scialfa (who sings background vocals on 9 tracks.)

The album was recorded “live” during three one-day sessions with no rehearsals (Bruce can be heard calling out changes and solos throughout the record); they worked out the arrangements as they played and the music sounds vital and all the more compelling for that off-the-cuff energy. The title track was recorded in 1997 for a Seeger tribute album, the others were recorded in 2005 and 2oo6.

This is an enormously entertaining disc that will set your toes to tappin' and your soul to hummin'…or as Bruce himself says in the liner notes, “turn it up, put on your dancin’ and singin’ shoes, and have fun”. ‘Nuff said.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Under the Covers, Volume 1

Years ago, Nick Lowe put out an album called Pure Pop for Now People (actually that was just the US title because the record company didn’t think the original title, Jesus of Cool, would go over well in the American market.) This disc, filled with buoyant covers of tunes from the 60’s and 70’s, embodies the title…it’s pure pop for now people of the 21st Century and it’s perfectly groovy indeed.

Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet make a great team. Sweet plays most of the guitars here (and quite well indeed) and if his earnest voice is not in the same league with Hoffs’ creamy, soulful, beguiling vocals the blending of their voices works well just the same. Hoffs’ voice is more upfront in the mix most often and that was an excellent decision (Hoffs takes the lion’s share of the lead vocals here.) Van Dyke Parks plays keyboards and contributes string arrangements.

Recorded in Sweet’s home studio, this disc is filled with covers of interesting, intriguing songs…some better known than others. If their version of Bob Dylan’s world-weary “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is probably too sweet for its own good they hit the hail on the head with other songs such as their sprightly take on the Beatles’ Revolver gem “And Your Bird Can Sing” and their luminous reading of Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”.

They dip into Neil Young’s songbook twice with “Cinnamon Girl” (which lacks the crunch and bite of the original but is enjoyable in its own right thanks mostly to Sweet’s tasty fretwork) and a jaunty “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere”.

Special kudos for them for their simply-grand acoustic version of “Alone Again Or” by the criminally underappreciated band Love.

There are 15 tracks in all including covers of The Beach Boys (a game “Warmth of the Sun”), The Bee Gees (the sweetly soaring “Run to Me”), The Who (the pure power pop goodness of “The Kids are Alright”), Linda Ronstadt (a note-perfect re-creation of “Different Drum”), Marmalade (the rollicking “I Can See the Sun”), The Velvet Underground (a lovely “Sunday Morning”), The Mamas and the Papas (a credible version of the oft-covered “Monday, Monday”), The Zombies (the sparkling “Care of Cell #44”), and The Left Banke (the bright pop of “She May Call You Up Tonight”).

This is a marvelous pop record and I hope the “Volume 1” in the title means that there’s a possibly of an encore because I would certainly welcome “Volume 2” with open arms.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Britain's Favorite Lyrics

U2 topped the list of Favorite Lyrics as voted by a poll of 13,000 British music fans conducted by VH1. The winning line came from the band’s oft-covered hit “One” (the most recent hit was a version released by Mary J. Blige and U2 at the end of last year.)

The #1 lyric (according to the poll): One life, with each other, sisters, brothers.

Following in the top 5 are:

The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?”: So you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry, and you want to die.

Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”: I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.

Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”: Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds, have no fear for atomic energy, 'cause none of them can stop the time.

Coldplay’s “Yellow”: Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.

The rest of the top 20 did NOT feature anything by The Beatles (either as a group or as solo artists), Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson, or Stevie Wonder (among many others.)

Included in the top 20 are: Eminem’s "Lose Yourself", Robbie Williams’ "Angels", The Who’s "My Generation", Radiohead’s "Creep", Marvin Gaye’s "What's Going On", U2’s "Where The Streets Have No Name", Abba’s "The Winner Takes It All", Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall", Tupac featuring Snoop’s "California Love", Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody", Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues", Kaiser Chiefs’ "I Predict A Riot", David Bowie’s "Heroes", and The Police’s "Every Breath You Take".

The results of the poll are…um…interesting (any list of lyrics that features Coldplay but doesn’t feature, for example, anything from John Lennon is suspect in my book…your mileage may vary…)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Pop Culture News and Notes

Due to popular demand (okay, I’m exaggerating about that) and halfway decent ratings (go figure) VH1 has announced that there will be a second season of the redoubtable Flavor of Love featuring Public Enemy mainstay Flavor Flav (see above) still looking for love from a bevy of hootchie-mamas…I mean, eager young ladies. The “love” connection made during the first season between Flav and “Hoopz” apparently didn’t work out (they’re just friends according to “Hoopz”.)

* * * * *

This summer’s edition of Big Brother will apparently be an “all-star” affair featuring former houseguests from the show’s first 6 seasons. Details on who will be participating on Big Brother: All-Stars (some of the players will be voted in by a public poll) and when the show will begin have not been released by CBS as yet (Julie Chen will still be hosting.)

* * * * *

ABC is considering moving either Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy to spread the ratings wealth of their powerhouse Sunday lineup (which also includes Extreme Home Makeover) to some of their weaker nights. One of them could be moving to Monday to fill the void left by Monday Night Football (which is moving to ESPN.)

* * * * *

Tori Spelling and her mother Candy Spelling are apparently not speaking to each other because Candy is furious about her portrayal on Tori’s faux-reality show, the often-amusing So NoTORIous. Loni Anderson plays the “Candy Spelling” character with over-the-top diva gusto on the VH1 show (Tori’s father, producer Aaron Spelling, is usually represented by a disembodied voice through a phone speaker just like Charlie on Spelling’s camp classic series, Charlie’s Angels.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Random Pop Culture List

The Writers Guild of America has compiled their list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays (as voted by their membership of film and television writers.) Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Billy Wilder each have four efforts on the overall list; Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), John Huston (The Maltese Falcon), and William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) each have three screenplays on the list.

Their top 10 selections (all filled with wonderful, vivid and memorable, writing) are:

1) Casablanca written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch (based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett & Joan Alison)

2) The Godfather by Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola (based on Puzo’s novel)

3) Chinatown by Robert Towne

4) Citizen Kane by Howard Mankiewicz & Orson Welles

5) All About Eve by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (based on the short story and radio play The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr)

6) Annie Hall by Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman

7) Sunset Boulevard by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D.M. Marshman, Jr.

8) Network by Paddy Chayefsky

9) Some Like it Hot by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond (based on the German film Fanfare of Love written by Robert Thoeren & M. Logan)

10) The Godfather, Part 2 by Puzo & Coppola (based on Puzo’s novel The Godfather)

Other screenplays on the list include: Dr. Strangelove, Fargo, The Usual Suspects, The Graduate, Do the Right Thing, Star Wars, 8 ½, Goodfellas, The Philadelphia Story, The Sixth Sense, High Noon, and Momento.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Disney to Offer 4 ABC shows free on the Internet

Disney has announced that they will be offering episodes of four of their ABC shows free on the internet in an experimental 2-month trial program during May and June. The trial will include episodes of the shows Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Commander-in-Chief (all available starting the day after they are broadcast on the network) as well as the entire current season of Alias.

Viewers will be able to pause and rewind the shows and to skip between “chapters” but they won’t be able to skip ads (Universal Pictures, Proctor & Gamble, Ford and AT&T are among the advertisers signed up for the trial) due to technical embedding (watching commercials is the trade-off for free downloads it seems.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006


I’m more than a little bit biased when it comes to Cassandra Wilson…I make no bones about that (see here for more about that.)

That disclaimer aside, I have no problem with proclaiming that Thunderbird is a stunner from start to finish. As always, the amazing Ms. Wilson defies being easily categorized; this disc finds her offering up a tasty, intoxicating gumbo of swampy delta blues, jazz, rock, pop, funk, and Americana to wondrous effect with her sensuously husky voice and her ability to find unique colors in songs both new and old as the vital ingredients holding it all together.

T-Bone Burnett, the Grammy winning producer of (among many other things) the glorious Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, helms this disc bringing his rich, authentic sonic palette to the party on a collection of original songs and, as always, surprising and delightful covers (among them a wistful take on Jakob Dylan’s “Closer to You”, a mournful then swaggering romp through Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Easy Rider”, and a spare, haunting version of the cowboy classic “Red River Valley”.)

Thunderbird is one of those CDs that grabs you on the first listen and then continues to reward the listener with each and every subsequent listen.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Random Pop Culture List

CMT’s Top 10 Greatest "Done Me Wrong" Songs

  1. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” Hank Williams

  2. “Jolene” Dolly Parton

  3. “Fist City” Loretta Lynn

  4. “How Do You Like Me Now?” Toby Keith

  5. “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Jeannie C. Reilly

  6. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” Kenny Rogers

  7. “Seven Year Ache” Rosanne Cash

  8. “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” Travis Tritt

  9. “Independence Day” Martina McBride

  10. “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” B.J. Thomas

Nothing encapsulates the down home blues quite like a good old fashioned country song :-) Hank Williams at the top was a no-brainer, of course.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Katie Couric

After 15 years of being so delightfully (or, perhaps depending on your mood, insufferably) perky early in the morning on NBC’s Today Show, Katie Couric (seen above with co-anchor Matt Lauer) is going to be able to sleep in by jumping over to CBS to become the first woman to anchor a network news show solo (the less we remember the disastrous stint Connie Chung spent co-anchoring with Dan Rather the better) when she takes over the CBS Evening News later this year. Couric will also be managing editor of the show as well as become a contributor to the venerable 60 Minutes.

Couric’s stint on
Today, which ends in May, is the longest of any anchor in the show’s 50+ year history.

Reports have it that Couric turned down more money (perhaps as much as $5 Million a year) offered by NBC in order to take on the challenge at CBS (where the news show has been trailing the other networks’ evening news shows for years.)

Bob Schieffer, moderator of Face the Nation, has been filling the anchor chair since Dan Rather stepped down a year or so ago.

NBC is apparently trying to raid ABC’s roster to replace Couric on the morning show as there are reports that they are negotiating to lure Meredith Viera from The View (how will she ever tear herself away from Star Jones and Joy Behar???) to co-host Today. (Failing that, NBC Nightly News substitute anchor Campbell Brown and Today Show news reader (and Dateline co-host) Ann Curry are among the in-house ladies at NBC who are being considered for the job.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Movie Downloads

Five Hollywood studios are joining the digital revolution as they start selling digital downloads of movies for the first time. Hits like King Kong and Brokeback Mountain are among the titles that are available to be bought and downloaded to computers.

Movielink…a site co-owned by Sony, Warner Brothers, MGM, Universal, and 20th Century Fox…will make some releases available at the same time the movies go on sale on DVD and others will be available for download sale within 45 days of DVD release. (FYI: the Movielink site does not support the Firefox or Netscape browsers.)

Recent releases will be sold for $20-$30 and older movies will be available for download for $10-$20. (These prices seem a bit high given discounts available for DVDs at places like but perhaps a lot of people will be willing to pay those prices in order to have immediate access to movies. We shall see.)

Customers will not be able to burn the movies onto discs to be played on DVDs but they will be able to be stored on computers indefinitely. The movies will also be able to be transferred to two other computers. (Transfers of movies to handheld devices are not available yet but that capability is in the offing.)

Sony and Lionsgate will also be selling movie downloads through another site, CinemaNow (which appears to accessible to Firefox and Netscape as well as Internet Explorer.)

Of the major studios only Disney is shying away from digital downloads of their films for the time being. This is likely to change though.

Personally I’m not that excited about watching movies on my computer but I have to give the major studios credit for, however reluctantly, acknowledging that the ways movies are being viewed, rented, and purchased are indeed changing.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Quote of the Week

"I'm so over me."
Blow Out's Jonathan Antin

Welcome to the club, "bro". We have "So Over Jonathan" t-shirts for sale at all the meetings. :-)