Monday, December 31, 2007

The 2007 Twenty


Neverending Rainbow's 3rd annual rundown of our 20 favorite reasons to have owned a CD player. These are the best CDs of 2007...or more to the point, given the daunting number of recordings released each year...the best CDs that we heard over the course of the year. Your mileage may (and doubtlessly will) vary. In any case, the picks (in alphabetical order by album title):

Back to Black
Amy Winehouse
(At once retro and utterly modern, as fine a soul record as you could ever hope for)

Children Running Through – Patti Griffin
(Passionate, evocative, utterly compelling, an amazing collection of songs and performances)

Finding Forever – Common
(Sly and sassy, romantic and randy, acerbic and hopeful, a seamless album featuring stellar guest turns by Lily Allen and Kanye West and held together by Common’s smooth, peerless flow)

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – Spoon
(Urbane pop-rock…delightfully melodic with tight playing and solid vocals…that soars and shimmers from beginning to end)

High Steppin’ – The Pimps of Joytime
(A really fine…really funky, really soulful, really rockin’, really jammin’, enormously entertaining…CD.

In Rainbows – Radiohead
(Challenging and accessible in the same moment, an utterly remarkable rock and roll record)

Live in Dublin – Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band
(A grand, accomplished, enormously entertaining 2-disc live set combining traditional songs with reworked Springsteen tunes)

Magic – Bruce Springsteen
(The Boss and the E Street Band on a set of rock solid, earnest, cranky, and soaring rock and roll ruminations)

Neon BibleArcade Fire
(Ominously haunting and undeniably rousing at the same time, the full bodied baroque rock and roll of this CD effortlessly gets under your skin and into your head and stays in both places and man is that a cool thing)

100 Days, 100 Nights – Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
(As gritty and old school funky as it wants to be, this CD grooves, growls, and bites with soulful fury as the righteous, gutbucket beauty of Ms. Jones’ voice is ably supported by the sterling musicianship of the Kings)

Raising Sand Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

(What seemed a strange match on paper became a magical, compelling, and heartfelt collaboration when they came together in song trading stunning leads and sharing remarkable harmonies)

River: The Joni Letters – Herbie Hancock
(A graceful and tasty tribute to Joni Mitchell featuring an excellent band and some nice guest vocal turns)

Teknochek Collision – Slavic Soul Party!
(This 9-member ensemble claims to be the “#1 brass band for Balkan-soul-gypsy-funk” and the music…joyous, worldly, full-bodied and, yes, brassy, soulful, and funky…proves the point with potent, irresistible charm)

The Hottest State – Movie Soundtrack
(Judging by critical response, the movie wasn’t so hot but the soundtrack…with songs by Jesse Harris and sublime performances by, among others, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Cat Power, Feist, and Norah Jones…is a cool, evocative gem)

The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster – Ruthie Foster
(An evocative, rocking, soulful CD that more than lives up to its grandiose title)

The Reminder – Feist
(A smart, sparkling collection of slightly offbeat pop tunes)

The Spiritual Kind – Terri Hendrix
(Witty, whimsical, insightful, heartfelt, delightful…a grand country record with all of the soul and twang and none of the glossy pop that too often passes for country music these days)

Under the Blacklight – Rilo Kiley
(Jenny Lewis and the guys embrace their funky edge to very fine effect)

Version – Mark Ronson
(The celebrated DJ and producer serves up a groovy party record filled with covers of British hits sung with gusto by, among others, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, and Robbie Williams)

We’ll Never Turn Back Mavis Staples

(Righteously soulful and soulfully righteous, a collection of compelling standards delivered by one of the most incomparable voices in pop, soul, and spiritual music)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 : The "Singles"

In these days of music downloading "singles" are kind of an anachronistic concept but that doesn't deter us here at the Rainbow from once again presenting our favorite tracks of the year. We make no claims that these are the "best" tracks that came out during year but they are the ones that that greatly entertained and/or inspired us (why am I using the imperial "we/us" when it's just me here? I dunno...just be a pal and indulge the hubris and let it go :-)

ANYWAY (he do go on sometimes, don't he? Sheesh...) here are Neverending Rainbow's 10 favorite tracks of 2007 (links to video and/or audio on each track...make with the clickety-click on the titles):

1) "Silver Lining" Rilo Kiley
(A rueful tale of love lost told with an irresistible catchy beat and a great Jenny Lewis vocal)

2) "You Know I'm No Good" Amy Winehouse
(Backed by the mighty Dap-Kings, the redoubtable Ms. Winehouse...who seems likely to actually survive '07 despite herself...throws down an soul jam as sweaty and funky as can be..."Rehab" [see below] was also mighty fine but her antics this year turned that song from being cheekily defiant to being creepily self-destructive.)

3) "Are You Alright?" Lucinda Williams
(A haunting, bittersweet plea for reconnection)

4) "Hey Eugene" Pink Martini
(A witty, sultry shout out to a guy who didn't call after a seemingly great time had at a party)

5) "Jigsaw Falling into Place" Radiohead
(A throbbing, utterly engaging rock and roll song)

6) "Heal Yourself" Ruthie Foster
(A wonderfully soulful tune of self-affirmation set to a driving beat)

7) "1234" Feist
(Yeah, the iPod commercial was ubiquitous but the song is still very cool)

8) "The People" Common
(While Kanye and 50 were having their over-hyped pissing contest, Common was quietly presenting the most engaging and inspirational hip hop of the year)

9) "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" Miranda Lambert
(The Nashville Star 1st season runner-up makes a solid case for being one of the more interesting stars to come from a TV competition with this feisty and funny warning to her ex and his new love.)

10) "Radio Nowhere" Bruce Springsteen
(The Boss rants about the woeful state of pop radio over a tight, propulsive rock groove.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Superbad/Hot Fuzz

As the holiday season wound down, the packages were wrapped and mailed, the cards were sent and received, and a bit of melancholy (for reasons I won’t bore you with here) was coming upon me and so, of course, comedy was in order.

My good friends at Netflix delivered two movies which had received great notices so I looked forward to just sitting back and being mightily entertained. And even though neither movie was as consistently knee-slapping hilarious as had often been reported both provided some cathartic laughter.

Superbad is both crudely raunchy and sincerely sweet…the young actors (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) at the center of the story are consistently amusing with an easy rapport (that they are too profane by half is a personal quibble…I’m not adverse to swearing but the sheer amount of profanity in the movie is more tiresome than funny after awhile.) Scenes are consistently stolen by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who makes his film debut as the nerd-tastic “McLovin”, and Bill Hader and Seth Rogen as the world’s most irresponsible cops.

Superbad, for all of its seeming preoccupation with sex and drinking and partying, is at its heart a story of the bond between two friends on the brink of adulthood and that reveals a tender heart underneath the crass shenanigans of the movie.

Hot Fuzz, on the other hand, has no such tender heart but it is briskly funny in an acerbic way…presenting the story of straight-laced, ultra-effective supercop (Simon Pegg) who was “promoted” from the London police department to a seemingly bucolic village…at least until the final reel when the spoof of American action movies (with pointed, affectionate references to Bad Boys 2 and Point Break and sly winks to other films such as Chinatown) becomes what it was spoofing, an over-the-top, violent action cartoon shoot-‘em-up (if this was supposed to be ironic, the irony was lost on me…it just got louder and sillier as the climax rolled on…and on...and on…)

Neither of these movies would be on my list of all-time favorite comedies but both had just enough laughs to make me smile and when it came to curing some Christmas blues that was just what the doctor ordered :-)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Christmas Story

Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (with James Stewart and Donna Reed) is, by according to many, THE classic Christmas movie. There were times when the movie, which fell into public domain, seemed to being shown almost constantly between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And yes it’s a fine movie…kind of dark along the way (Stewart’s George Bailey is seconds away from committing suicide at one point after all) and a bit saccharine at the end but fine…but for my money there are two Christmas themed motion pictures that are much better. One is the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street (filmed in glorious black and white) with the incomparable Edmund Gwenn in his Oscar winning turn as Kris Kringle and the young Natalie Wood as Susan, a girl who rediscovers the wonders of childhood (the 1994 color version…with Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson…is okay I guess but it pales by comparison to the original.)

But for my money the most engaging Christmas movie is 1983’s A Christmas Story…the whimsical (and sweetly comical), sardonic (but not snarky), nostalgic (but not overly sentimental) tale of Ralphie (played with guileless spunk by Peter Billingsley), his earnest quest to get a bb gun for Christmas (the story is set in the 40’s when bb guns were an uncontroversial present for a boy), and his interaction with his somewhat dysfunctional parents (his blustery father played with manic aplomb by Darren McGavin and his fluttery mother played with ditzy grace by Melinda Dillon.) The story is tied together and moved along by the breathlessly arch narration by Jean Shepard, the author of the semi-autobiographical story.

It’s not a deep or complicated story but it is charming and funny and touching (with just enough slapstick to keep things lively) and it never fails to make me smile. What more could you want from a Christmas movie? :-)

(The original theatrical trailer is below.)


Monday, December 17, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of '08

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its newest group of inductees. The class of ’08 (artists become eligible 25 years after the release of their first single or album) is led by Madonna (see the "Borderline" video from back in the day below) and also features John Mellencamp, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, instrumental rockers the Ventures (whose hits included the classic theme from the TV show Hawaii 5-0), and British invasion stalwarts the Dave Clark Five.

The induction ceremony will be held in New York on March 10, 2008.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

2007 Grammy Nominations

Maybe this time Kanye West will be able to win the big prize at the 50th annual Grammy Awards (goodness knows that we’ll all hear about it if he doesn’t) as he leads the nomination pack with 8 nods. Amy Winehouse, who’s had an interesting year to say the least, picked up 6 nominations.

West’s Graduation and Winehouse’s Back to Black are competing for Album of the Year honors alongside of the Foo Fighters’ Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace, Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, and Vince Gill’s eclectic 4-disc collection, These Days.

Winehouse’s defiant (and undeniably funky) “Rehab” (see below) is competing for Record of the Year with Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”, the Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender”, Rhianna’s “Umbrella”, and Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…Comes Around”.

Winehouse is also up for Best New Artist (even though Back to Black is not her first album) along with Feist (who also has been around for a little bit), Ledisi, Paramore, and Taylor Swift.

The Grammy Awards will be handed out on February 10, 2008.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Home for Christmas

There are some music fans who believe that pop artists have jumped the so-called “shark” if they release one or more of four types of albums: greatest hits, live recordings, covers collections, and holiday records. While this can sometimes be true, I’m willing to cut folks some slack on the matter…especially when it comes to holiday records. There is a burgeoning sub-section of my CD collection that is devoted to holiday records…at least a couple get added every year…and I am unabashed in my fondness for them (and no, there’s no such thing as “too many” versions of “O Holy Night” or “Jingle Bell Rock” :-)

Daryl Hall and John Oates, their hit-making days behind them for the time being, have released albums in all four of the categories mentioned in the previous paragraph. Their holiday offering, Home for Christmas, is a heartfelt, soulful, sparkling gem of the genre that never descends into dullness or treacle.

With a soaring overture leading into a very fine, gently funky version of “The First Noel”, the CD gets off to a grand start indeed.

Some of the songs are the usual suspects… “The Christmas Song” (aka “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”…written by Mel Torme & Robert Wells but totally owned by Nat “King” Cole), “Jingle Bell Rock”, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, “O Holy Night”…but Hall and Oates bring a vibrancy to the proceedings that makes them all shine once again. Hall’s still potent voice brings a heartfelt and delightful urgency to the tunes and the arrangements are fresh and exceedingly well-played.

Two of the songs are originals: Oates takes the lead vocal on his self-penned “No Child Should Cry on Christmas” (he also does an admirable job on the oft-covered “Christmas Song”) and he acquits himself admirably while Hall delivers a sweet, mid-tempo jewel with the title song which he co-wrote.

The Stax song, “Everyday Should Will Be Like a Holiday”, co-written by the great Booker T. Jones, fits right into Hall’s R&B wheelhouse and he knocks it out of the part. Their version of one of my favorite holiday songs, Robbie Robertson’s lovely “Christmas Must Be Tonight”, is just as fine.

The rollicking, toe-tapping gospel of “Children Go Where I Send Thee” is righteous enough to make even the biggest sinner smile and dance along. And “Mary Had a Baby” makes a smooth, joyful noise of its own.

By the time the closing song, a soul-filled and soaring take on “O Holy Night” , was done I was filled with enough Christmas spirit to bring light to a cold, gray Autumn’s day…can’t ask more than that, can I? :-)

(Below, Hall and Oates performing "Christmas Must Be Tonight" on the Megan Mullally Show.)


Friday, November 23, 2007

Deadwood

I have, through the tender auspices of the good folks at Netflix, made my way through the third (and, alas, final) season of Deadwood. I went through the episodes slowly because I knew that they were the final episodes of this compelling series (HBO in its dubious wisdom decided not to continue the show) and I was loathe to rush through them (though the impulse to do so was always there, of course.)

Deadwood is (was) not for everyone…it is (was) gritty, bawdy, messy, absurd, engaging, and, most all, profane…but I relished all three seasons with all of its compelling drama, serpentine plotting, and wonderfully flawed and complex characters.

The language of the show was poetic and profane…most often both at the same time…and the locale was lived-in, rough hewn, muddy, messy, and ramshackle. I have no idea if any of this was true of Deadwood, South Dakota in the late 1800’s but it has a fierce verisimilitude that I quite readily accepted (even while accepting, however reluctantly, that people probably didn’t speak in the colorful profane poetic way the characters sometime did in the series.)

At the heart of the series was Ian McShane’s wondrous performance of the brutal, acerbic, savvy and, yes, profligately profane Al Swearengen, Deadwood’s manipulative power-broker (as well as a saloon owner and whoremaster). The third season was underscored by the conflict between Swearengen and the even more brutal George Hearst (Gerald McRaney is in very fine form as the complex, driven Hearst) and it is a violent, strategic, uncompromising chess match that is never anything less than wholly, awfully engaging.

There is not much resolved by the time the series ends and we are promised a movie or two to bring to some better resolution the plotlines that would have come together in the planned fourth season…I hope that the promise comes true but even if it doesn’t Deadwood is (was) still well worth the investment of time and (rapt) attention.

Monday, November 19, 2007

High Steppin'

The Pimps of Joytime do make a joyful noise on this very fine, very funky CD. The Pimps cook up a heady musical gumbo that throws choice influences like Prince and Curtis Mayfield, the Neville Brothers and the Meters, Sly and the Family Stone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and War and then they spice it up even more with potent dollops of Afro-Caribbean pop, hip hop, and punchy rock & roll. The result is almost too soulful, too funky, and too delightfully engaging for words….but only “almost” :-)

The Pimps hit the ground running with the jamming, mostly instrumental, title track and then they slide smoothly into the percolating love jam “My Gold” (featuring falsetto vocals that would do Curtis proud and some fine guitar work.)

The band keeps it in a solid groove from the mid-tempo strut of “She-Do” to the solid funk shuffle of “Long Ride” to the old school funk of “Workin’ All the Time” (featuring some great vocals, keyboards, and horns) to the extended jam “Street Sound” (with chanted vocals that remind me of War back in their prime and some nimble guitar and bass playing)…and they keep the musicianship up at that superlative, utterly infectious level throughout the entirety of the disc.

The yearning ballad “Be Good” slows down the tempo to nice effect and then the Latin-flavored “Bonita” kicks things back into sweet danceable groove.

The Pimps are tight and in the pocket all the way…on the haunting “San Francisco Bound” and the joyful reggae of “Tea Time” and the raucous, gospel tinged, guitar and organ driven finish to “Hey Mr. J” and onto to “H2O”, the funkiest eco-friendly song you’re likely to hear :-)

By the closing uplift of the hopeful “We Shall Find a Way” (buoyed by some great guitar and organ work and featuring a grand harmonica solo), I was completely hooked. The Pimps of Joytime are the real deal and High Steppin’ is a real fine…funky, soulful, rockin’, jammin’, enormously entertaining…CD. ‘Nuff said. :-)

Below is a video of the Pimps of Joytime jamming live.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Project Runway

As I’ve probably said before, I really don’t care about so-called high fashion (and I have a closet full of jeans, t-shirts, caps, sneakers, and well-worn boots to prove it) but, that said, I love Project Runway :-) And after a year’s absence…a year during which Bravo tried to clone Runway with wan pretenders like Shear Genius and Top Design…it’s back!

Mrs. Seal is back in all of her Teutonic fabulousness, judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors are back with their supercilious snarkiness, and, best of all, the ever-unflappable, ever-dapper Tim Gunn is back as the mentor to this year’s crop of designers.

The designers this year all seem to be more experienced as a group than previous groups of contestants…many of them have already put out collections and/or have their clothes worn by celebrities…and that seems to me to bode to a more competitive…and cutthroat…competition. Cool.

The show hit the ground running this year…eschewing showing the preliminary judging in favor of just introducing the finalists and throwing them into the business of creating fashion right away. Most of the designers rose to the challenge of designing and creating an outfit that represented their fashion outlook, a few didn’t, and, as Heidi Klum says on every show, one was “out”.

Too early to say who is going to breakout either as the one to beat or the one the other designers want to beat up (first round winner Rami said that he had set the bar for the competition and I can’t disagree with him…and young Christian, with his pretentiously asymmetrical hairdo, affects being full of his own greatness but he seems too non-threatening to really pull it off) but the gloves usually don’t come off during the first week of the show.

Here’s looking forward to a scintillating season of Project Runway. Make it work, people, make it work.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Harvest Moon

Neil Young with backing vocals by Emmylou Harris and his wife Pegi Young.



Happy 62nd Birthday, Neil Young :-)

Many happy...and rockin'...returns of the day!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

In Rainbows

The methods by which we obtain music are…and have for a long time been…changing (something the major labels and the large record store chains have been loathe to acknowledge or quick to adjust to.) As CD sales continue to plummet and record stores (one of the great joys of my younger days) continue to disappear…as sites for legally downloading music multiply (iTunes is the undisputed leader, of course, but Amazon. com recently joined in the fray, and there are many other outlets…my personal favorite is eMusic, a site that specializes in “indie” labels) music fans have a multitude of ways to get their musical fixes.

Artists too are redefining the ways they get their music out to the public. Prince caused a stir earlier this year by giving away copies of Planet Earth with a British newspaper and Madonna recently jumped ship from a major label for a multi-tiered, multi-million dollar deal with a concert promoter.

Radiohead, the amazing, creatively restless and adventurous British band, has upped the ante by offering their new record, the gorgeous and beguiling In Rainbows, as a download on their website where the listener can choose how much (if anything) they want to pay for it. Fans can decide to pay nothing (according to one report more than half of them are opting to do just that) for the record and they can still download the ten tracks that make up In Rainbows (a standard CD will be issued next year and there is also a pricey box set consisting of the CD, two vinyl LPs, a 2nd CD with bonus tracks and digital photos, lyric booklets and other artwork that will begin shipping in December.)

The audacious marketing experiment aside, In Rainbows is a remarkable rock and roll record (and for the record, I paid $10 for it…$1 a track…and it was money well spent.) From the funky “15 Step” to the all-out rocker “Bodysnatchers”…from the lush, shimmering “Nude” to the soaring, electronic washes of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”…to the love songs, grandly ruminative (“All I Need”) and gently flowing (“Faust Arp”)…from the pulsating, rock solid “Reckoner” (hear below) to soothing, mid-tempo groove (accented by haunting electronic accents) of “House of Cards”…from the throbbing rock and roll of “Jigsaw Falling into Place” to somber and almost ethereal (save for the commanding drumbeat) closer “Videotape”…the tracks are uniformly intriguing, involving, and compelling. It is, quite simply, a wonderful album.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Hoax

I haven’t been moved to go to the movie theater much this year and even my Netflix queue has been quiet for a while but as the year winds to a close I’m endeavoring to get caught up on some movies that I’ve missed this year. Case in point: Lasse Hallstrom’s interesting character piece, The Hoax, which came out to generally good reviews earlier this year.

The movie chronicles the audacious 1970s hoax perpetrated by Clifford Irving involving a supposed autobiography of the famously reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Irving scammed more than a million dollars from McGraw-Hill and Life Magazine and was well on his way to getting away with it before Hughes surfaced (in a news conference held via speakerphone) to scuttle his play.

The Hoax, with a screenplay based on Irving’s own book about the whole affair, juxtaposes the unfolding of Irving’s elaborate…and frankly bold…scheme against the events of the times (the Vietnam War and the protests against same, the Nixon Administration, etc.) to intriguing effect. It also strongly suggests that Irving’s plot was allowed to go forth due to a double dealing conspiracy between Hughes and his people and Nixon and his people.

I don’t know about that last bit but I do know that at the heart of this movie…which itself is briskly paced, engaging, and witty…is a bravura performance by Richard Gere that captures the charm, the intelligence, the deviousness, the callousness, and, eventually, the paranoid fantasies of Irving. Gere is amazing and so is Alfred Molina, playing Dick Suskind, Irving’s conflicted partner in crime; they play off each other with such fierce chemistry that they make the movie soar.

The rest of the cast…including Marcia Gay Harden, Stanley Tucci, and Hope Davis…are fine enough in underwritten supporting roles.

Clifford Irving is a charming rogue (something testified to by venerated CBS newsman Mike Wallace in one of the DVD’s bonus features) and this movie, however true it is itself (it’s based on Irving’s book so it’s skewed towards romanticizing his actions to some extent), has a real charm of its own.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I'm Not There

Bob Dylan is such a distinctive singer and songwriter that it can be problematical trying to cover his songs. Of course, this doesn’t stop people from trying (the songs are too magnetic and powerful for that)…I must have at least a dozen CDs of Dylan covers (with Dylan songs sprinkled liberally amongst many, many other discs) in my personal collection. More than perhaps with any other singer-songwriter, those attempting to cover Dylan need to dig in and find their own way of coming at the songs or else they probably shouldn’t bother.

This collection…the soundtrack to Todd Haynes’ upcoming movie where 5 different actors (including Cate Blanchett) play Dylan…is a slightly mixed bag but there are more than enough highlights to make it a very worthwhile listening experience. The set gets off to a worrisome start with the epic “All Along the Watchtower”…the music (by the Million Dollar Bashers, a group that backs several performers over the course of the 2-disc set) is biting and fierce but Eddie Vedder’s vocal is strangely distant, as if he was afraid to really try to connect to the words. But then things pick up with Sonic Youth’s muscular take on the title track and then My Morning Jacket's Jim James (backed by Calexico, who also back up several artists on the set) takes a fine turn on “Goin’ to Acapulco”. The great Richie Havens inhabits “Tombstone Blues” with vigor.

Stephen Malkmus (backed the Million Dollar Bashers) threatens to get close to getting caught up in doing a parody of Dylan’s idiosyncratic phrasing on “Ballad of a Thin Man” but in the end he manages to avoid that trap for the most part. He also covers “Can’t Leave Her Behind” in a clipped, singsong way that is plaintive enough to suffice. Malkmus also sings “Maggie’s Farm” but his wan vocals are not up to the level of the killer rock-steady backing that the Million Dollar Bashers give him.

The amazing Cat Power kills on a throbbing, horn-driven romp through “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” while John Doe is equally impressive on the soulful gospel of “Pressing On” (Doe later also sings “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” with soulful conviction) and Yo La Tengo offers up a delicate, lilting version of “Fourth Time Around” (they kick it up into higher gear later on a rollicking version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.)

Calexico appears several times: backing up Iron & Wine on an atmospheric version of “Dark Eyes”, offering up sweet Latin flavored support (including some sublime horn and string work) to Roger McGuinn’s lovely “One More Cup of Coffee”, providing supple support to Willie Nelson’s potent cover of “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)” (which features a powerful Spanish verse sung by Salvador Duran), and effectively underscoring Charlotte Gainsbourg’s ethereal, whispery reading of “Just Like a Woman”.

The Million Dollar Bashers (featuring Tom Verlaine on guitars, John Medeski on keyboards, Wilco's Nels Cline on guitar, and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums) also a couple of other appearances: providing stellar support on Karen O’s feisty cover of “Highway 61 Revisited” and presenting an appropriately dense and spooky version of “Cold Irons Bound (with Verlaine on vocals).

Mason Jennings’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (accompanied only by his acoustic guitar) is well-intentioned but it lacks bite and therefore comes off a pale imitation of the brutally acerbic original (he fares a little bit better later on “The Times They Are A-Changin’”.) Los Lobos’ gently-driving take on “Billy 1”, on the other hand, is a full-bodied gem. Jeff Tweedy, accompanied by drums, bass, and fiddle, takes on Dylan’s phrasing to good effect on “Simple Twist of Fate” while Mark Lanegan is deliciously foreboding on the ominous “Man in the Long Black Coat”.

Mira Billotte is a wonder of vocal economy on her quietly shimmering “As I Went Out One Morning” and Sufjan Stevens turns Dylan’s gospel dirge “Ring Them Bells” into an almost baroque fantasia (complete with a soaring horn section) that works wondrously when you imagine that it shouldn’t at all. Jack Jackson is his soothingly laconic self on “Mama, You’ve Been on my Mind/A Fraction of Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” which features some of the best acoustic guitar playing on the CD.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (of the Swell Season) play a fine acoustic (guitar, harmonica, banjo, bass) version of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” while The Hold Steady rock out on a potent take of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott offers up a ragged but heartfelt “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”. The Black Keys rock a thick, bluesy “Wicked Messenger” while Marcus Carl Franklin (the youngest of the actors playing Dylan in the film) is surprisingly assured on “When the Ship Comes In” and Antony and the Johnsons are subdued (to haunting effect) on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.

Dylan and The Band tie up the CD with “I’m Not There”, recorded during the fabled Basement Tapes sessions.

Dylan afficianad0s may argue the merits of these covers but there is, as I said before, much to be enjoyed on this soundtrack.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Top-Earning Dead Celebrities

You gotta love it. There are dead people who still raking in more money in a year than most of us will earn in our entire lifetimes. Such is life :-) Forbes Magazine came out with their annual list of the Top-Earning Dead Celebrities.

At the top of this year’s list…which also includes two Beatles and the Godfather of Soul… is Elvis Presley. 30 years after his death, Elvis earned a cool $49 million (which must make Lisa Marie, his sole heir, very happy.)

John Lennon came in second with earnings of $44 million, followed by Charles M. Schulz ($35 million), George Harrison ($22 million), Albert Einstein ($18 million), Andy Warhol ($15 million), Theodor (Dr. Seuss) Geisel ($13 million), Tupac Shakur ($9 million), Marilyn Monroe ($7 million), Steve McQueen ($6 million), James Brown ($5 million), Bob Marley ($4 million) and James Dean ($3.5 million).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monster Mash



Happy Halloween from Bobby "Boris" Pickett and some classic movie monsters
(and your pal here at Neverending Rainbow :-)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Heroes

Just when I was beginning to worry if Heroes was going to turn into Lost…so wrapped in introducing new characters and subplots that they leave the old characters and situations off to the side…it seems to be turning the corner and picking up a second wind (mixed metaphors are fun, ain’t they? :-)

I still think the Hiro in Ancient Japan storyline is a non-starter for me (they need to get him back to the present and back with Ando ASAP…though I guess they still have to deal with Isaac’s painting showing Hiro fighting a dinosaur), the amnesiac Peter in Ireland storyline is also a bit of a slog (though it seems that Pete is headed back to North America which should hopefully get him back in the mix), and the Maya/Alejandro thing is annoying at this point (we don’t know enough about them to care about their seemingly endless journey and the addition of Sylar to their subplot is full of unrequited possibility so far.) Claire and her flying boyfriend are cute together but it doesn’t seem to add much to the story.

On the other hand, some things are coming together. Noah “HRG” Bennett and the Haitian seem to be about causing some ruckus. Matt and Nathan on the trail of Matt’s father, the boogey man of Molly’s nightmares, is a good step as well. Micah’s New Orleans sojourn seemed kinda blah but now that Mohinder, who is undercover with the sinister Company, has shown up to find Monica that plot thread seem likely to be made an interesting part of the overall tapestry (especially with Niki already having voluntarily gone to the Company looking for a cure for her super-powerful schizophrenia.)

Adding new characters is fine, I guess, but we already have more than enough people to keep up with (especially since all of the major characters survived the showdown at the end of last season with the exception of DL…and frankly I’m wondering if there’s a twist there since we didn’t see the body) and adding Hiro’s companions in Japan, Peter’s new love and her friends in Ireland, Micah’s relatives and their friends in New Orleans, Claire’s new classmates in California, and Sylar’s traveling mates, the “wonder twins” (if you’re of a certain age you’ll get that allusion…) is nearing on being overkill. (I do like the addition of Nichelle Nichols…she brings an undeniable grace to the proceedings…though I do hope they are planning on giving her more to do.)

All that said, I still trust that the show’s creative staff has a plan and thus I remain faithful. The virus storyline seems to be on the verge of really turning into something exciting. And perhaps the upcoming episode that will fill in the gap between the end of the 1st season and the beginning of this one will bring more light and perspective on what’s going on…we shall see.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Smokey Robinson and Linda Ronstadt



From the Motown 25 special, Smokey Robinson and Linda Ronstadt duet on "Ooo Baby Baby" and "The Tracks of my Tears".

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Next Great American Band

The good folks at American Idol have decided to try to find The Next Great American Band in a AI-style competition complete with a perky host (Dominic Bowden, host of New Zealand Idol…who is much less insufferable than Ryan Seacrest actually), celebrity judges dishing out praise and support (Sheila E. and Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls), and the apparently requisite snarky, “brutally honest” judge with an non-American accent (in this case Australian record industry vet, Ian Dickson who answers to…and tries desperately to live up to…the nickname of “Dicko”.)

The auditions, held in the desert (110 in the shade) next to Lake Las Vegas for some reason, also followed the pattern of having talented bands interspersed with oddballs brought in to give the judges (and the viewers) something to roll their eyes at.

Overall, the 2-hour premiere was...okay. Not great but okay. In the end, it’s about the music. The judges winnowed through all of the bands and have picked 12 who will start competing for America’s vote starting next week.

Is the “next great American band” going to come out of this? I dunno…I doubt it…but, that said, stranger things have happened in the music industry (especially in the state of flux the industry is in right now.) But, that said, some of the bands are pretty good…I rather liked the tight country pop band Sixwire, the great country/gospel trio the Clark Brothers, the rocking funk band Franklin Bridge, and the rockers Dot Dot Dot myself…and all of them have potential so the competition should be entertaining (and may the most popular…and hopefully the best…band wins once America gets to start letting their fingers do the voting.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Viva Laughlin

Oh my. Did we learn nothing from Cop Rock? Mixing casino drama with a murder mystery, cheesy soap opera/family drama, and karaoke production numbers must have seemed like a good idea to someone at CBS….as hard as that is to believe…but the finished product was…not so good.

Viva Laughlin is bad on so many levels…bad writing, bad acting, poor character development, uninteresting mystery, improbable coincidences…and, oh yes, the production numbers.

Melanie Griffith (am I delusional or couldn’t she really act at some point?), bless her, was a sport to vamp along to Blondie’s “One Way or Another” while trying to seduce an old flame but she really should have re-thought that.

Hugh Jackman (an executive producer and apparently a recurring guest star) strutting with casino waitresses turned backup dancers while singing along with the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” (see above) was not quite as embarrassing…but it was a close call.

Similar fates awaited Elvis’ “Viva Las Vegas” and Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Let it Ride” (both warbled by Lloyd Owen, the series lead) before the hour was over.

I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and saying they were deliberately going for “campy”…they missed “campy” by a mile (we’re apparently supposed to take this silly stuff seriously) but I’m going to give them that benefit of the doubt just the same.

Maybe there’s an audience for Viva Laughlin but I’m not going to be part of it.

* * * * *

October 22 addendum:

After two broadcasts CBS has mercifully put Viva Laughlin out its (and our) misery by canceling it. It's Sunday night time slot will be filled with a CSI rerun next week and then with a new edition of The Amazing Race. Presumably no careers have been marred beyond redemption (not likely since not many people watched Viva Laughlin.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Short Takes: Pink Martini, Carole King, Michelle Shocked

So much music, so little time…here’s a few capsule reviews to help me get caught up (and to get stuff filed into the racks instead of just cluttering up the space around my CD player :-)


Pink Martini – Hey
Eugene!

The 14-member band…lead by pianist Thomas Lauderdale and the amazing, multi-lingual vocalist China Forbes…is so wonderfully eclectic that you never know what’s coming next on this great disc. From the big, dreamy, string-drenched, old Hollywood-style ballad (“Everywhere”) that opens the disc to savory Latin flavors of “Tempo Perdido” and “Mar Desconocido” (featuring a sample from a Chopin waltz) to songs sung, quite effectively, in French, Japanese, Russian, and Arabic (as well as English, of course :-) “World Music” is ably represented by this crack band from Oregon :-) Two of the sparkling highlights are the title track, a sly, witty rejoinder to a guy who never called after what seemed like a perfect first encounter, and a sweet, amazing duet between Forbes and the venerable Jimmy Scott on the classic “Tea for Two”. This CD challenges your expectations…unless you’re already a Pink Martini fan…and then rewards you abundantly for your willingness to take the music journey.

Carole King – Love Makes the World

The remarkable Carole King has been making music as a songwriter since the 60’s and as a performer since the 70’s and this disc of songs affirming love and life, put out on her own Rockingale label, shows that she still has the right stuff in spades. This is a a nifty, enormously entertaining pop record that keeps King, in fine voice, squarely in the spotlight even while featuring some fine guest turns by Babyface, Wynton Marsalis (some very nice trumpet work on “I Wasn’t Going to Fall in Love”) , Celine Dion, Graham Nash (a charming, sumptuous duet on “Two Hearts”), K.D. Lang (so fine, as always, on the soaring duet of “An Uncommon Love”), Steven Tyler (some great harmony and background vocals on the rocking “Monday Without You”), Alejandro Lemer (a cool Spanish duet on “Lo Que Tú Eres Para Mí”), and King’s daughter Louise Goffin (a frisky duet on “Where You Lead”.) A simmering revival of “Oh No, Not My Baby” featuring just King’s soulful voice and piano is grand highlight.

Michelle Shocked – To Heaven U Ride

You never know where the muse will take Michelle Shocked but you know it’s always going to be interesting wherever it is. This is a soulfully ragged and heartfelt gospel set recorded live at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2003 (the tapes were apparently unearthed fairly recently.) Shocked, backed by a tight band and a gospel quartet, is a credible gospel singer and you can feel the spirit moving through her on her covers of The Band’s “The Weight” and Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”, on the classic spirituals “Wade in the Water” and “Uncloudy Day”, and on her own “Quality of Mercy”. If the bluesy pathos of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” is just a bit beyond her (it’s a game try nevertheless) she is on sure footing throughout most of this uplifting CD.

(Below is a video of Pink Martini performing the very cool “Hey Eugene” live.)