Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Testimony: Volume 1, Life and Relationship

India Arie is arguably the most positive person in pop music…and that’s an incredibly cool thing indeed. Even when she’s singing about heartbreak and ended relationships…as on the jaunty “Wings of Forgiveness”, the reflective “These Eyes”, and her shimmering cover of Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter”… she does so with an unshakeable emphasis on forgiveness and positive lessons learned.

Testimony: Volume 1, Life and Relationship is filled with songs of faith and empowerment…songs of self-awareness and hope for humankind…songs that could be insufferably cloying were it not for India’s sweetly earnest outlook that colors each of them. She also paints her songs from a rich, warm and welcoming sonic pallet (rich keyboards, warm guitars, gentle beats) that draws the listener in and holds them fast (and totally engaged) from beginning to end.

From the self-affirmations of “I Am Not My Hair” (this mix featuring rapper Akon…though I actually preferred the rap-free version of the song that was released as a single a few months back) and the gospel-flavored “I Choose” (featuring some tasty guitar by Bonnie Raitt) and “Good Morning” to tributes to the better angels of human nature like the sunny “There’s Hope” and the optimistic “Better People”, India is unflaggingly upbeat and it never seems forced or affected.

Along the way she name checks some of her heroes…Jesus, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela…and on “Private Party”, she slips in a sly quote from a song by her mentor and inspiration, Stevie Wonder…and it all flows smoothly without coming off as too precious or too naive.

Testimony (which was India’s first #1 album on the Billboard chart) is a sweet, uplifting, entertaining journey…a journey I will continue to take happily for some time to come.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The 50 Greatest Pop Culture Sidekicks

Entertainment Weekly loves to make lists…which is cool with me because, for some reason, I’ve had a fondness for making lists since I was a child (I used to make my own weekly Top 40 list of singles and then tape a show counting them down like I was some half-baked Casey Kasem…it’s a good thing those tapes are long lost…)

Their current list, like all of the others, is subject to debate…which is a big part of the fun, of course. Their current list is “The 50 Greatest Pop Culture Sidekicks of All Time”. The top 10:

1) Ed McMahon (Johnny Carson’s jovial yes man on The Tonight Show)


Robin the Boy Wonder (Batman’s partner-in-crimefighting)


George Constanza (Jerry’s conniving, sadsack best guy pal on Seinfeld)

4) Chewbacca (Han Solo’s beastly best bud)

5) Ethel Mertz (Lucy Ricardo’s best friend and partner-in-crime)

6) Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes’ able friend and assistant)

7) Samwise Gamgee (Frodo Baggins’ faithful fellow adventurer in The Lord of the Rings)

8) Ed Norton (Ralph Kramden’s affably ditzy best friend on The Honeymooners)

9) Tattoo (Mr. Roarke’s plane-spotting major domo on Fantasy Island)

10) Dwight Schrute (Michael Scott’s craven sycophant on The Office)

Others who show up on the list are Donkey (Shrek), Robin Quivers (The Howard Stern Show), Gromit (Wallace’s long-suffering partner), Keith Richards (who would probably balk at being called Mick Jagger’s sidekick), Silent Bob, Barney Rubble, Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen, and Don Quixote’s faithful aide Sancho Panza.

The list gives no love at all to worthy sidekicks like my main man Tonto (who saved the Lone Ranger’s ass more than once), Public Enemy’s irrepressible Flavor Flav (below- and yes his reality shows are embarrassing to all involved but that doesn’t detract from the…well…flavor…he brought to PE’s best records and live shows), and Pinky (The Brain’s delightfully daffy cohort in repeated attempts to take over the world…Pinky and The Brain are finally coming out with a long-overdue DVD set later this month…yay!!)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Superman Returns

Okay, it was probably about 20-30 minutes too long (the denouement dragged on and on) and Lex Luthor’s master plan was a bit too, you’ll pardon the expression, “comic book-y” (but since he’s comic book super-villain I guess we should cut him a bit of slack on that one…) but, all in all, it was fun.

Superman Returns wasn’t quite the triumphant return to the movie theaters that Batman Begins was last year…but it had some spectacular effects (the bit with the plane was VERY cool), a fair amount of interesting character interaction (though the chemistry between Brandon Routh’s Superman and Kate Bosworth’s Lois Lane wasn’t nearly as compelling as that between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder back in the day), and a charming sense of wonder (especially to folks like me who’ve been Superman fans since childhood.)

I could have done without the Christ analogies (overblown in the first movie…the ghost of Marlon Brando sonorously intoning about sending Earth his only son here as back then) but they’re ignored easily enough.

Kevin Spacey brought a sense of menace and malevolent whimsy to Luthor (Gene Hackman went for camp back in the original movies) and made for a reasonably credible opponent for the Man of Steel. Routh and Bosworth were fine…a bit bland but fine (though it was bit disconcerting that this movie takes place 5 years after the events of Superman II and yet both of them look much younger than the actors who played their characters in the earlier film)…but veterans Frank Langella, as Daily Planet editor Perry White, and Eva Marie Saint, as Superman’s mom Martha, was woefully underused (though Langella did get to use White’s catchphrase…”Great Caesar’s Ghost”…which tickled the fanboy in me anyway.)

Special kudos for dedicating the movie to Christopher and Dana Reeve. Very classy and appropriate.

A solid effort…I wasn’t completely blown away but I was entertained (and left with real hope and anticipation for a sequel.)