Thursday, June 28, 2007

Spice Girls

Stop the presses (or something…) The Spice Girls are reuniting for a world tour this winter…a little somethin’-somethin’ for the fans who didn’t get a proper farewell tour from the fab 5 before (insert your own “Old Spice” joke here…I can’t bring myself to go there :-)

The Spice Mums (they have six children between them with another one on the way thanks to the semi-ironic Baby Spice pregnancy)…Victoria (“Posh Spice”) Beckham, Melanie (“Sporty Spice”) Chisholm, Geri (“Ginger Spice”) Halliwell, Emma (“Baby Spice”) Bunton, and Melanie (“Scary Spice”) Brown…will kick off their 11-city tour in Los Angeles on December 7th with other shows in Las Vegas (December 8), New York (December 11), London (December 15), Cologne (Germany-December 20), and Madrid (December 23) before taking off for the holidays. Then starting on January 10, 2008 they’ll complete the tour with stops in Beijing, Hong Kong, Sydney, Cape Town, and Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My December

After all of the static flowing between Kelly Clarkson…championing her right to artistic expression…and Clive Davis, the president of her record company…wanting to make sure one of his biggest stars continues to churn out platinum sales and radio-friendly hits….all that really matters is the music.

And that music…My December…makes a case for both of their arguments. Clarkson co-wrote all of the songs (one report has Davis offering Clarkson a boatload of money if she would pull 5 tracks off the album and replace them with songs that Davis would find for her, an offer she is said to have declined out of hand) and she was in a kind of dark, angry place when they were written…the first three songs (including the first single, “Never Again”) are angry rockers that rail against wrongs done her. Kelly’s voice is strong and easily holds its own with the snarling guitars.

The bittersweet ballad “Sober”, underpinned by acoustic guitar, continues the confessional tone (…three months and I’m still sober…) of the CD building to an emotional mid-tempo crescendo. “Don’t Waste Your Time” has the pop-rock hook I imagine Davis was looking for more of but, again, the lyrical content is not exactly hopeful.

As the title implies, the throbbing rocker “Judas” is about betrayal. It has a propulsive beat that draws you in even as the bite of the lyrics makes you glad the song wasn’t written about you. There are similar hooks to the sassy “Yeah” (with a synthesizer figure that evokes the sound of horns to fine effects) and “How I Feel”.

“Be Still”, a gentle ballad, takes a more hopeful stance and it sounds like it could be a hit to me (but what do I know?) On “Maybe”, another guitar-driven ballad that kicks into a mid-tempo groove halfway through, Kelly turns her gaze inward for some self-exploration and a hope for love in the future; “Can I Have a Kiss”, a crunchy power ballad, uses the whisper-to-a-controlled-scream thing nicely.

Irvine”, a lovely bittersweet lullaby features the most subtle vocal on the disc. (The cheeky “hidden track”…man, I hate that hidden track stuff…”Chivas” throws in a bit of fun at the end.)

The online versions of the disc end with the acerbic “Dirty Little Secret” and two remixes (one for radio, one for clubs) of “Never Again”.

There is a yearning, assertive, and very adult sensibility to the songs on My December…which I think is Clarkson’s best record to date…that eschews teen pop for the sound of a rockin' singer-songwriter following her muse down whatever dark paths it will take her. I can see where Davis would be worried that there were no “hits” (at first blush, seems unlikely that this record will match the sales of her last one but I presume that Clarkson isn’t worried overmuch about that trusting that enough of her fans will be willing to follow her into new musical territory) but I give Clarkson props for sticking to her guns and putting out the record she wanted to…a record that shows that her growth as an artist is continuing in powerful and occasionally thrilling ways.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

AFI's Top 10 American Movies

In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked the best (American) movies of all time with its "100 Years...100 Movies" list. They've reshuffled the list with the 10th anniversary edition (as voted on by 1,500 directors, writers, actors, critics, and other Hollywood types) revealed in a TV special this week.

The new Top 10 movies are:

1) Citizen Kane (which also ranked at #1 on the 1998 list)
2) The Godfather (up from #3)
3) Casablanca (down from #2)
4) Raging Bull (up from #24)
5) Singin' in the Rain (up from #10)
6) Gone with the Wind (down from #4)
7) Lawrence of Arabia (down from #5)
8) Schindler's List (up from #9)
9) Vertigo (up from #61)
10) The Wizard of Oz (down from #6)

The two films that made the top 10 in 1998 but not this year were: The Graduate (which was #7 in 1998 but is #17 on the new list) and On the Waterfront (#8 then, #19 now.)

On the overall list, the biggest leap from 1998 to now was made by John Ford's western classic The Searchers starring John Wayne (it moved up from #96 to #12.)

Four movies that were made after the first list was made placed on the new list: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (#50), Saving Private Ryan (#71), Titanic (#83), and The Sixth Sense (#89).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

New Seven Wonders of the World

The voting for "the new Seven Wonders of the World" through the auspices of a Swiss-based website, is coming to an end soon. The foundation sponsoring the vote, headquartered in a museum in Zurich, thinks that a new list of Seven Wonders is important because only one of the fabled Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still exists today (that wonder being the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, of course; they have been grandfathered in as an honorary New Seven Wonder.)

Among the twenty-one nominees are: the Statue of Liberty (see above), Stonehenge, the Sydney Opera House (Australia), the Acropolis in Athens, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome, the Easter Island statues, the Taj Mahal (see below), the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto (Japan), Christ Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro (Brazil), the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow, Alhambra in Spain, Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, Angkor in Cambodia, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Turkey), Petra in Jordan, Timbuktu, and the Eiffel Tower.

All 21 nominees can be viewed at the website above (where votes can be cast as well.) The announcement of the new Seven Wonders will be made in Lisbon, Portugal on July 7, 2007 at a gala which will hosted by Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley and will feature performances by Chaka Khan, Jose Carreras, Jennifer Lopez, and others.

John Lennon - Instant Karma (Live)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Instant Karma

Okay, let’s start by saying that if you’re a really hardcore John Lennon fanatic you probably won’t find much on Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, a 2-disc collection of covers of Lennon songs by an eclectic lineup of pop artists, that will be to your liking. Let it go. Just grit your teeth, keep telling yourself that it’s for a good cause, and move on.

In the liner notes Yoko says that “John would have proud of this album” and I’d imagine that’s true…for the fact that his music is still being used to try make the world a better place if for nothing else. That said, over the course of the 23 tracks (there are 10 additional tracks on the iTunes version) while nobody transcends the originals (too much to ask, of course) nobody thoroughly embarrasses themselves either (okay, the Black Eyed Peas come close with their tepid reworking of Lennon’s propulsive “Power to the People”…Lenny Kravitz drawls his way through an unconvincing “Cold Turkey”… Matisyahu’s dancehall reggae take on “Watching the Wheels” is heartfelt but still kind of an awkward mess…and I could have done without the space cadet version of “(Just Like) Starting Over" by the Flaming Lips.)

Amnesty International has had these songs…and others…available for download for while (click on the “Make Some Noise” banner in the right column of this page) with the proceeds going towards the ongoing crisis in Darfur.

Two songs are presented twice on the set: “Imagine” is, almost as a matter of course, one of them (Avril Lavigne’s version is ever so slightly more animated than Jack Johnson’s typically laconic take) and the other is “Gimme Some Truth” (with Jaguares’ sinewy rocker running circles around the version by rock royalty offspring Jakob Dylan and Dhani Harrison.)

Some big guns step to the plate and do okay. U2 puts a reggae groove on “Instant Karma”, Green Day’s muscular “Working Class Hero” is fine (and it features a snippet of Lennon at the end), and “#9 Dream” fits nicely into R.E.M.’s wheelhouse. Christina Aguilera is surprisingly potent and controlled on “Mother” (at least until the end when her inner diva bursts out and turns Lennon’s primal scream into Broadway showstopper grandstanding.) And there is a certain ragged charm to the version of “Give Peace a Chance” by Aerosmith (featuring Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars).

Some of the highlights of the collection come from unexpected quarters: Los Lonely Boys offer up a funky romp of “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, Youssou N’Dour is enormously charming and eevocative on a bilingual version of “Jealous Guy”, Snow Patrol’s atmospheric reading of “Isolation” is quietly compelling, Postal Service’s spare electronica “Grow Old with Me” works when I imagined it shouldn’t, Big & Rich find a grand groove on “Nobody Told Me”, and Corinne Bailey Rae’s live recording of “I’m Losing You” is even more soulful than anything on her own CD.

Other tracks merit neither scorn nor many repeated listenings…Jackson Browne’s “Oh my Love” and Ben Harper’s “Beautiful Boy” both fall into this category as does the version of “God” by Jack’s Mannequin featuring Mick Fleetwood.

The collection finishes on a shimmering grace note with Regina Spektor’s lovely, compelling version of “Real Love”.

Most likely music fans will find things to like AND things to loathe on Instant Karma…and that’s cool. Just keep remembering it’s for a good cause and let it go :-)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Live in Dublin

Last year Bruce Springsteen gathered a group of little known but very accomplished musicians together to make a collection of songs associated with the legendary folk singer/activist Pete Seeger. The resultant CD…a delightfully freewheeling, spirited, and ramshackle acoustic affair…was We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.

Springsteen took a version of the big band (now dubbed The Sessions Band)…some 17 strong including E Street Band members singer/guitarist Patti Scialfa (Mrs. Springsteen) and violinist Soozie Tyrell…on the road and this 2-disc set was recorded last November in Ireland (before a very enthusiastic audience) during the process (a 3-disc version of the set features a DVD of performances of all 23 songs.)

The playing on this collection is tighter than it was on the studio album, a joyful noise indeed. The 23-track set includes most of the songs from We Shall Overcome along with new arrangements of a number of Springsteen songs and a couple of venerated gospel songs.

The disc opens with a lively re-interpretation of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” (from his classic album Nebraska; “Highway Patrolman”, from the same album, is featured later on the disc to fine effect) followed by three potent performances of Seeger Session songs (the rollicking “Old Dan Tucker”, the soulful anthem “Eyes on the Prize” featuring vocals by Mark Anthony Thompson, and a boisterous romp through “Jesse James”.)

Springsteen shares the mike with some of the band members…including Thompson and Scialfa…for a lovely version of his own “Further On (Up the Road)” (originally recorded on The Rising.) Springteen, Thompson, and Scialfa trade off verses on a soft, elegant version of “When the Saints Go Marching In”

Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” (from Lucky Town) is recast as a stately waltz featuring a duet between Springsteen and Scialfa.

Songs from the Seeger Sessions all shine including energetic and engaging takes on “Mary Don’t You Weep”, “My Oklahoma Home” (which includes great solos by Tyrell, banjo player Greg Liszt, and the horn section and a fun call and response with the audience), “Jacob’s Ladder”, “Mrs. McGrath”, “Pay Me My Money Down”, and “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” (featuring Bruce’s Hurricane Katrina inspired additional lyrics.)

The Springsteen songbook is explored with interesting new versions of tunes such as: a fine mid-tempo take on “Long Time Comin’” (originally from Devils and Dust), a wonderful, totally rockin’ “Open All Night” (from Nebraska), a heartfelt lope through “Growin’ Up” (from Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ), the jaunty, Irish-flavored “American Land” (from the special edition of We Shall Overcome), and a playful romp through “Blinded by the Light (also from Greetings.)

Springsteen, the band, and the singers work up a righteous gospel fire with their take on “This Little Light of Mine” before finishing the disc with the tropical lilt of “Love of the Common People” and a delicate, moving version of “We Shall Overcome.”

Live in Dublin is a grand album…fun, frisky, and full of life. Bruce is in fine voice and having a great time and the crack band is downright amazing. What more could you ask?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Memory Almost Full

We will eschew the “comeback” talk that is too often associated with every halfway decent Paul McCartney disc…Sir Paul has put out a lot of albums in his solo career and some have been good, others have been not-so-good, and a couple have been downright great but the man never went anywhere so he never needed a “comeback”.

Memory Almost Full, McCartney’s album released by Hear Music, the music label started by Starbucks (as I write this, coffee junkies all over the world are listening to this record on an day-long loop in all of Starbucks many, many, many stores), is an affable look back at his productive and amazing life. If you were any ruefulness engendered by his very public, very nasty divorce proceedings to make its way into his new music, you will disappointed as the look back is positive and only occasionally wistful.

McCartney is in fine form as he journeys back while looking forward…there are echoes of his past musical triumphs sprinkled liberally throughout the disc but it is, at the same time, a record that has a very modern sound. He’s got nothing left to prove…and he certainly doesn’t need the money…and you get the feeling that he was both very engaged and very loose while making this record.

The disc starts off with the sprightly, mandolin-driven “Dance Tonight”, an agreeable bit of pop fun, which is followed by the harder pop of “Ever Present Past”, a paean to the speed at which life passes and how the present is always informed by the past.

“See Your Sunshine” is an unabashed McCartney love song (complete with multi-tracked vocals over a sweetly loping beat) while “Only Mama Knows” is an all-out rocker (which in fact has strong echoes of his classic “Jet” from Band on the Run.)

“Mr. Bellamy” is one of those baroque pop character studies that McCartney has indulged in for decades (see “Eleanor Rigby”, “Penny Lane”, and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.) It begins with a fine horn section and finishes with a piano-driven coda.

Theme of looking back but not wallowing in the past is championed in bouncy one-two punch of “Vintage Clothes” and “That Was Me”.

The wistfully charming “The End of the End” asks that jokes be told and songs be sung on the occasion of his death (“no reason to cry/no need to be sad”) in a simple song with piano and whistling and softly swelling strings.

The disc ends with another bit of fun…the brief, dense rocker “Nod Your Head”.

This is a fine record…Sir Paul, who’ll turn 65 later this month, proves he’s still a potent force to be reckoned with the pop world.

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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses

The Zimmers - My Generation

Possibly the coolest Who cover ever! :-)

Somewhere Pete Townshend is smiling ruefully (or, hopefully, laughing his butt off :-)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Djin Djin

One of the ways that underappreciated or veteran artists try to bring attention to their music is by having a lot of famous admirers and/or friends guest star on their record.

Ray Charles went out on the Grammy winning grace note of Genius Loves Company and Carlos Santana roared back onto the charts and award podiums with the star-studded Supernatural (Carlos continued the formula on his next two records with diminishing results and interest.) Sam Moore’s friends and admirers joined him on the remarkable Overnight Sensational and Warren Zevon, dying of terminal cancer, had a similar gathering on his final album, the wistfully graceful but still feisty The Wind.

Angelique Kidjo, the amazing “world music” singer who was born in Benin, new CD, Djin Djin (see promo video in the post below this one), follows this formula by being front loaded with big name guest appearances. As always, Kidjo sings in an array of the languages she is fluent in…including Yoruba, French, and English…and she remains squarely in the spotlight more than holding her own with her high-powered guests.

After opening with the jubilant “Ae Ae”, the CD features 6 straight cuts featuring the guests. Alicia Keys and saxophonist Branford Marsalis bring their distinctive voices to the title cut (which refers to the sound of a bell that announces the dawn in parts of Africa) while Kidjo and Joss Stone romp through a potent cover of “Gimme Shelter” (it has none of the menace of the Stones original but it throbs along with an almost irresistible beat of its own.)

Peter Gabriel, long a proponent of “world music”, chimes in on “Salala” while Amadou and Mariam, the accomplished “blind couple from Mali” add their wondrous voices to the jaunty “Senamou”

Josh Groban’s soaring voice and Carlos Santana’s distinctive guitar blend with Kidjo to fine effect on “Pearls” as does Ziggy Marley on the reggae-inflected “Sedjeno”.

Kidjo deftly handles the second half of the disc on her own starting with the propulsive “Papa” to the lilting “Emma” (which opens with a stunning a cappella vocal and then segues into a swaying beat accompanied by a shimmering choir of backup singers) to celebratory “Mama Golo Papa” to the closing “Lonlon”, a lovely (and audacious) interpretation of Ravel’s “Bolero”.

It’s a cliché that music is the universal language but it is true nevertheless…you don’t have understand the lyrics being sung to immerse yourself joyfully in the wonders of Djin Djin.

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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Angelique Kidjo - EPK

Promo video for Angelique Kidjo's Djin Djin (see review above)