Friday, June 30, 2006

Piece by Piece

This disc starts off with a grand one-two punch…the silky, jazzy “Shy Boy” and the wistful, engaging “Nine Million Bicycles” (with lilting “ethnic flute” accents)…both of which were written by the collection’s producer/arranger/pianist Mike Batt. And though the rest of the set doesn’t match those highpoints there is much to enjoy and appreciate here.

Melua and Batt co-wrote the jaunty “Halfway Up the Hindu Kush” (no, I don’t know what that means.) Navel-gazing, na├»ve, high school poetry-like lyrics bog down some of the songs that Melua wrote by herself (“Spider's Web”, for example, asks “If a black man is a racist, is it okay?/If it’s a white man’s racism that made him that way?”…which I guess must have sounded profound when she wrote it…)

But the disc is enlivened with a handful of eclectic, nice-arranged covers: Johnny Mercer’s classic “Blues in the Night” (delivered with just enough soulful conviction to make it work), an interesting, low-key take on Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again”, and a sweetly earnest version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”.

Melua also shines on “I Do Believe in Love”, the lovely closing song, which she wrote and which features just her lovely voice and her piano (this is the only cut on which Batt did not play piano.)

This is not a perfect CD by any means but the best parts of it are soothing, inviting, and even downright wonderful.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Treasure Hunters

What a disappointment. The promos for this thing made it look like it would be smart, challenging, fun, intriguing, and involving (a combination, perhaps, of the globetrotting adventure of The Amazing Race and the on-the-fly puzzle solving of The DaVinci Code.)

But after watching the first two hours, Treasure Hunters turns out to be none of those things. It’s silly, poorly-edited, stuffed to the gills with intrusive product placements and, perhaps worst of all, just plain boring.

And, of course, a show like this rises and falls on the strength of its casting and none of the Treasure hunters made a positive impression on me (special kudos going to the pastor who freely admits to being ready to lie to win and who actually wrestles a clue out of the hand of a woman who found it first…and to the “geniuses” [as their team are labeled and a description they are more than happy to claim every time they're on camera] who come off as pretty clueless through the hunt so far.) And with no one to root for it’s hard to care about the show.

Maybe things will pick up as the field of contestants narrows (there are 30 players…in 1o teams of the first two hours and that's a lot of folks to try to keep sorted out) but I’m not going to bet on that.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Most Controversial Movies of All Time

Entertainment Weekly, one of the many magazines that love to make all kinds of lists, has released their ranking of the "25 Most Controversial Movies of All Time". Their Top 10:

1) The Passion of the Christ (2004-directed by Mel Gibson)

2) A Clockwork Orange (1971-directed by Stanley Kubrick)

3) Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004-directed by Michael Moore)

4) Deep Throat (1972-directed by Gerard Damiano)

5) JFK (1991-directed by Oliver Stone)

6) The Last Temptation of Christ (1988-directed by Martin Scorsese)

7) The Birth of a Nation (1915-directed by D.W. Griffith)

8) Natural Born Killers (1994-directed by Oliver Stone)

9) Last Tango in Paris (1972-directed by Bernardo Bertolucci)

10) Baby Doll (1956-directed by Elia Kazan; written by Tennessee Williams)

2006 supplied two films to the list: The Da Vinci Code ranked at #13 and United 93 at #16.

Among the other rabble-rousing movies on the list are: Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous pro-Nazi documentary Triumph of the Will (1935) at #15, Paul Verhoeven’s lurid Basic Instinct (1992) at #19, Spike Lee’s incendiary Do the Right Thing (1989) #22, Larry Clark’s harrowing Kids (1995), and Disney’s (?!?!) Aladdin (1992), which drew fire over its Arabian stereotypes, at #25.

Oliver Stone, who has two films in the top 10, may have a shot at placing another film on a future list with his film World Trade Center due to be released in August. And Jesus, the subject of two of the top 10, may join him when Nativity, a biography of the Virgin Mary that features Jesus’ birth at his climax, comes out in December.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Taking the Long Way

The Dixie Chicks have come back after all of the controversy (following lead singer Natalie Maines’ disparaging remarks about President Bush and the war in Iraq) unapologetically loaded for bear and, with the help of super producer Rick Rubin and some other famous friends (including Bonnie Raitt, John Mayer, and Mike Campbell), they’ve delivered a very solid, feisty and tender and enormously entertaining, disc.

Country radio is shying away…especially with the soaring, defiant “Not Ready to Make Nice” having been released as the first single…but that didn’t stop Taking the Long Way from debuting at the top of both the pop and country charts with more than an half-million copies sold in the first week (nowadays radio is not nearly as important in generating CD sales as it used to be, of course.)

The twang in Maines’ voice is still unmistakable and the country flavor is still very apparent but this disc has more of a pop sheen than their earlier collections…and that’s not a bad thing. The Chicks co-wrote all 14 songs on the collection (Sheryl Crow and Keb’ Mo’ being included among the co-writers) and they deliver a nice set of songs. Maines is in fine voice both on upbeat tunes like the title track and the driving “Lubbock or Leave It” as well as lovely ballads like “Easy Silence”. There are some amazing harmony vocals as well…especially on the delicate, stunning “Lullaby”.

The disc ends with a fine new version of “I Hope”, the gospel-inflected song the Chicks co-wrote with Keb’ Mo’ and performed during a benefit for Hurricane relief last year.

The only drawback…and it’s a minor quibble…is that Rubin and the Chicks succumbed to the tendency to want to fill up the space on the CD by stretching songs to 4 or 5 minutes when some of them would have been just fine at 3 and ½ minutes or so. (But a lot of performers have done that since the compact disc became the dominant recording format and they will continue to do so.)

Taking the Long Way is a shining return to form after the mixed results of their last studio disc (2000’s Home) and it’s lovely to have the Dixie Chicks back.