Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Under the Blacklight

Rilo Kiley has gotten their groove on…and they’re not afraid to let it have free reign on their new album (all these years later I’m still using that term…go figure :-) There are no ballads on this record (another archaic term I refuse to let go for some reason)

Under the Blacklight, a song arc about lost love and hard life on the streets of the city, kicks off with a sparkling (if decidedly bittersweet) pop song, “Silver Lining”, that deftly sets the tone for the disc. The rocker “Close Call” (about ladies of negotiable affection and the dangers of their chosen profession) slips into the credible funk of “The Moneymaker” (also about the aforementioned ladies...it's not my favorite track on the disc but it's okay) and then into the irresistible dance groove of “Breakin’ Up” and the soaring power pop of the title track.

Jenny Lewis is in fine, soulful voice throughout these cuts…nothing like the more ethereal vocals on Rabbit Fur Coat, her great 2006 album with the Watson Twins… and she ably aided and abetted by the band’s stellar playing and by backing vocals from The Waters.

Blake Sennett takes the lead vocal on “Dreamworld”, the best Fleetwood Mac song that Lindsey Buckingham never wrote …and that’s not a slam, it’s a great track.

Lewis, who wrote or co-wrote most of the album, takes the mike for the jagged (and quite effective) funk of “Dejalo” and the horn-driven “15” (about a man’s apparently unknowing assignation with a girl of that age.”

The guitars are infectiously crunchy on the acerbic, poppy rocker “Smoke Detector”.

Under the Blacklight closes with two mid-tempo gems: the rueful, wistful “The Angels Hung Around” and the hopeful coda, “Give a Little Love”, which locks its gentle but insistent groove in a tight pocket.

From what I can see online, I guess a lot of longtime Rilo Kiley fans are not pleased with this disc…their major label debut…and its new direction. I don’t get it myself. It’s great record by a band willing to continue challenging itself. Yeah, they could keep remaking “I Never” or “It’s a Hit” but what would be the point of that?

Under the Blacklight rocks…and grooves…and intrigues…and stays with you long after it’s stopped playing. It’s all good to me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Random Pop Culture List

Spinner.com has come up with their list of the Best Opening Lyrics (to a song from the rock and roll era one has to presume given the interesting...and decidedly random...results.) Their top 10:

10) Tommy used to work on the docksBon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”

9) Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not minePatti Smith’s “Gloria”

8) Well it’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go, cat, go!Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”

7) In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkeyBeck’s “Loser”

6) Why do birds suddenly appear every time you’re near?The Carpenters’ “Close to You”

5) Don’t call it a comebackLL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”

4) Well she was just 17, you know what I meanThe Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There”

3) Hey ho, let’s go!The Ramones' “Blitzkrieg Bop”

2) I was born in a crossfire hurricaneThe Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

1) She’s a very kinky girlRick James’ “Super Freak”

Um, okay… :-)

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MKW Creative Writing Blogstuff: Bread and Roses

MKW Comic Book Blogstuff: Suspending Disbelief

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Britain's Got Talent- Connie

A heartbreakingly sweet and guileless performance of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by a shy and utterly charming 6-year-old on Britain's Got Talent.

Even the often-curmudgeonly Simon Cowell was impressed :-)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster

Man, when you give your CD a title like The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster you’re really asking for people to give you that extra bit of scrutiny. I understand that the title wasn’t Ms. Foster’s idea…but whoever had the idea they were right on the money because Ruthie Foster is indeed phenomenal and this record is mighty fine proof of that fact.

Her voice is strong, vibrant, and utterly soulful (think Joan Armatrading with Sam Cooke’s impeccable phrasing and Mavis Staples’ slow burning passion but wholly original just the same) all at once and she puts those amazing pipes to excellent use on this collection of original songs and canny covers that seamlessly blends soul, blues, and folk music into a very tasty musical gumbo.

The CD comes out strong with the 1-2-3 punch of “’Cuz I’m Here”, a righteous mid-tempo blues, her self-penned “Heal Yourself”, a joyful up-tempo, life-affirming R&B, and a truly remarkable…yearning and blues-drenched…cover of Lucinda Williams’ wonderful “Fruits of my Labor”.

And by the time she follows that up by taking you to church with a sterling a cappella take on Son House’s “People Grinnin’ in Your Face” and a sweet and sure version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above my Head (I Hear Music in the Air)” you know that you might as surrender because the...yes...phenomenal Ms. Foster has hooked you already…at least that was my experience.

Her original songs more than hold their own with the covers. “Harder Than the Fall”, a gently loping blues ballad, manages to be rueful and hopeful at the same time while the jumping “Beaver Creek Blues” thumps along on an irresistible beat and “Mama Said” is a sultry and supple slice of Delta blues.

“Phenomenal Woman”, with words written by Maya Angelou, is a righteous celebration of womanhood that features one of the more urgent and compelling vocals on the disc. “A Friend Like You”, a sweet love song, finds Foster’s effectively understated vocal bolstered by some lovely organ and guitar work.

The disc ends on a lovely grace note with Foster’s own bittersweet “I Don’t Know What to Do with my Heart” which features the compelling honesty of the lyrics underscored to grand effect by piano, guitar, drums, and a string quartet.

What a delightful and engaging record …yeah, it is downright phenomenal indeed.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project

I’m not sure why but I’ve had a fondness for cover songs…not just any cover songs, of course, but the good ones that bring out new nuances in songs that are already familiar. The newest CD from KCRW, a leading public radio station with a great reputation for breaking and encouraging new music and musicians, is an interesting collection of cover tunes (mostly) recorded in their studios by an eclectic lineup of performers for their show Morning Becomes Eclectic. Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project is 15-track collection with several sparkling gems.

Girls in Hawaii (a 6-member group from Belgium with no girls in the band at all :-) lead off the proceedings with a fine reading of Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend”. The Kinks’ “I Go to Sleep” is covered by Sia but the rendition is too similar to the wonderful version done by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders to be really satisfying.

The acoustic version of Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” by the Magic Numbers is fun and Damien Rice slips into the alienated vibe of Radiohead’s “Creep” quite effectively accompanied only by his guitar. Nikka Costa gets sultry and soulful with her steamy version of Nina Simone’s classic “I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl” (which includes her vocalizing a trumpet solo in a charming and cool way.)

Dido’s cover is a sweet and crystalline take on James Taylor’s breakthrough hit “Fire and Rain”. Paul Weller strips down the R&B classic (perhaps best remembered from the version by Rose Royce) to an acoustic, two-guitar ballad to very nice effect.

Rufus Wainwright and Chris Stills (son of Stephen) dip into Neil Young’s songbook for their plaintive stroll through “Harvest” while R.E.M. offer up a relaxed version of Glen Campbell’s first hit “Gentle on my Mind”. Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” is stripped down to a very effective piano ballad by Gary Jules while the Flaming Lips take on Radiohead’s “Knives Out” is typically both lush and laconic.

Robert Plant rocks out a throbbing version of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” (and yes I guess it still counts as cover even though he sang lead vocals on the original :-) with throaty vocal phrasing that sounds very Bob Dylan-ish and some very crunchy guitar riffs.

Missy Higgins is passionate and compelling on her cover of Patty Griffin’s “Moses” while M. Ward makes the most radical revision here as he strips David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” down from a funky dance tune to a mournful ballad featuring acoustic guitar and a nice harmonica solo.

k.d. lang closes the disc with a glorious version of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah”; her vocal is so sublime that you’d think the song had been written for her to sing (and maybe, after a fashion, it was.)

Sounds Eclectic: The Covers Project, put out by Starbucks’ Hear Music, is a fine, soothing, engaging CD indeed.

Friday, August 17, 2007

So You Think You Can Dance

It hasn’t been a good summer for “reality” TV.

Big Brother was sabotaged, once again, by bad casting (when the most noteworthy characters are a self-absorbed Paris Hilton wannabe…Jen…and a belligerent over-aged wannabe rocker who goes out of his way to live up to his name…Dick…you’re definitely in trouble…especially when the rest of the cast is uniformly bland, seemingly dim-witted, and whiny.) CBS should have called a “do-over” because nobody in this house deserves half a million bucks.

Usually reliable Top Chef has also suffered due to poor casting (Hung fancies himself the discerning badass bon vivant but he just comes off as an arrogant, big talking twit who often can’t deliver when push comes to shove. And Howie doesn’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between being a plain spoken competitor and just being a mean-spirited ass...he falls squarely into the latter category.)

Age of Love could have saved itself the trouble since anybody with half a lick of sense knew that the 30-something guy was going to pick a 20-something “kitten” over a 40-something “cougar” from the word go. The woeful Pirate Master got shanghaied off the air (and onto CBS.com) before it could finish its run. Hell’s Kitchen stacked the deck with as many sadsacks as it could find so that Gordon Ramsay could go nuclear on them every few minutes. Welcome to the Parker has a certain voyeuristic appeal, I guess, but it certainly doesn’t make the hotel seem like someplace I would want to go to. And Flipping Out might just have the creepiest, most anal retentive (I guess that's supposed to be the charmingly quirky part of the show), and completely unlikeable central character in the “reality” TV genre.

But then there’s So You Think You Can Dance. In its third…and undeniably best…season the dance competition was a brilliant ray of sunshine blazing across our summer television airwaves. With the effervescent Cat Deeley as host and with its judges’ panel anchored by the dapper Nigel Lithgow, both a stern taskmaster unafraid to tell the dancers when they’ve gone off-track and a gracious, enthusiastic fan equally unafraid to lavish praise when praise is due, and the irrepressible Mary Murphy, both delightfully daffy and learnedly insightful, the show rarely hits on a wrong note on this front (unlike American Idol, where the host and the judges spent so much of the time trying to make that show about them rather than the contestants.)

The choreographers…a number of whom rotated through the third judge’s chair to great effect…were on their game this season challenging both themselves and the young dancers. I give special kudos to Mia Michaels, Shane Sparks, and Wade Robson for their often inventive, entertaining, and moving routines.

And the dancers…my goodness, what an enormously talented group they were this season….even some of the folks who didn’t make the final cut were amazing. The top 20…with a quibble here and there…were all game and eager to learn. The top 10 was great top to bottom.

And the top 4…well they kept saying on the show that it would have been fine if any of them had come out on top and that is indeed true. While I am an unabashed Sabra (above with Danny) fan…she is such a charming and engaging little dynamo who handled almost every style of dance she given to do with style, verve, and bright energy…and I’m thrilled that she won, but I would have not been overly disappointed if any of the other 3…vivacious Lacey, affable and athletic Neil, and elegant, often astonishing Danny…had taken the crown.

The final show could have been tightened up a bit…at the end Cat barely got through announcing Sabra as the winner before the final credits started rolling…but that’s not that important after all of the wonderful weeks of entertainment So You Think You Can Dance offered up this season. Bravo.

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Creative Writing MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses

Comic Book Geek MKW Blogstuff: Suspending Disbelief

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Hottest State

Jesse Harris is a talented songwriter and musician whose greatest claim to fame is writing and playing on Norah Jones’ breakthrough hit, “Don’t Know Why”. Called to provide songs for Ethan Hawke’s new movie, The Hottest State, Harris put out to call to some of his friends to provide vocals for those songs (drawn from the 50 or so tunes offered to Hawke). Among those who answered the call are Jones, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Cat Power, Bright Eyes, and Feist.

Harris’ songs here are, for the most part, soothingly languid, mid-tempo affairs but the singers inhabit them with their own unique voices and energies.

Harris steps into the spotlight for three vocals: the delicate “It Will Stay with Us” (backed only by his own guitar work), the rootsy countrypolitan groove of “One Day the Dam Will Break”, and the pure pop/jazz swing of the hopeful “Dear Dorothy”. Harris doesn’t have the greatest voice but his unabashed earnestness carries the day on all three cuts.

Harris also plays guitar on 2 of the 3 instrumental tracks: the lilting “Morning in a Strange City” (which includes some nice trumpet, accordion, and marimba playing) and the gentle dual guitar closer “There Are No Second Chances”, a duet with Tony Scherr (who also sings “You, the Queen”, a spare ballad that is the only track on the disc that doesn’t quite click.) The 3rd instrumental track is a lovely solo piano version of “Never See You” by Brad Mehldau.

In the movie, Sarah (played in the movie by Catalina Sandino Moreno), the female lead, is a singer and songwriter and on the soundtrack Rocha, a newcomer from Argentina, is her voice and she sings lead on 3 of the 18 tracks including two versions, one in Spanish (for which Rocha provided the lyrical translation) and one in English, of the bittersweet recurring theme “Never See You” and the gently-swinging “No More”. Rocha’s voice is sweetly vulnerable and, at the same time, plaintively engaging.

Willie Nelson, old pro that he is, slips comfortably into the amiable lilt of “Always Seem to Get Things Wrong” with tasty backing of his own signature guitar picking and the sweet piano work of Norah Jones (who also takes a typically fine lead vocal turn on the wry “World of Trouble” as well playing piano and singing backing vocals on M. Ward’s elegiac take on “Crooked Lines”.)

The ever-remarkable Emmylou Harris brings grace and understated intensity to the haunting ballad “The Speed of Sound” (accented with lovely, ethereal, harmonica playing by Mickey Raphael, a mainstay of Willie’s band, and equally lovely backing vocals.) Cat Power, backed only by Jesse Harris playing guitar and banjo, delivers a sweet and soulful vocal on “It’s All Right to Fail” and Feist is equally fine on the simply grand “Somewhere Down the Road” (which features horns, organ, and guitars blended to sublime effect.)

Bright Eyes offers up the atmospheric rocker “Big Old House” (complete with thick swirls of keyboards and horns) while the Black Keys plays a more straight ahead bluesy rocker with “If You Ever Slip”.

I have no idea how these songs fit into the movie (director and star Hawke says they fit perfectly) but as a CD they make up a delightfully coherent and entertaining collection indeed.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


This week marks the 30th anniversary of the day that Elvis Presley died (and I think it’s time that everyone just accepted the fact that he is indeed singing in the choir eternal in whatever you think Heaven is and let him rest in peace.)

And yes I remember where I was when I first heard the news (fresh out of college, I was toiling away in the administrative bowels of Max Factor & Co. and the ladies in the accounting department were buzzing about it. At first I thought it was just a silly rumor but, of course, it turned out to be true.)

My first exposure to Elvis was through those (mostly) dreadful movies he made (thanks a bunch, Colonel Parker) so I didn’t really get the “king of rock and roll” thing when I was boy. But I came to understand it better as I got older and got exposed to the music not cranked out for those movies.

However strange the man’s life might have gotten in his latter days, Elvis could flat out sing and work a crowd like no one’s business. From the plaintive balladry of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” to the potent soul of “Suspicious Minds” to the rock and roll joy of “Burning Love” (see live video below), Presley was in a class all his own when he was on his game.

30 years…it seems amazing that it’s been that long…but, of course, thanks to the music and the impersonators and, most importantly, the memories of everyone who ever enjoyed his music or loved him, Elvis is never going to be truly gone.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Planet Earth

There isn’t much that’s very…ahem!...revolutionary (heh, see what I did there?) about Prince’s newest album, Planet Earth. Even with contributions from stalwarts like Wendy & Lisa and Sheila E., there isn’t any new ground broken with this disc. This is not to say that it’s bad…it’s not but, like his last couple of discs, it feels like the artist who is once again known as Prince is content to stay in a holding pattern with his music. It seems strange to finish hearing a CD from Prince and find yourself saying something like “well, it’s okay…”

But then perhaps it’s time to stop waiting for him to come up with something on the artistic level of 1999, Purple Rain, or Sign o’ the Times and just enjoy the music he’s making these days without judging it against his past achievements. That is, of course, easier said than done, but I’ll give it a shot.

The opening track, the title song, has the epic sweep of “Purple Rain”, complete with soaring vocals and guitar runs, with a “save the planet” message (a subject revisited later on the rocker “Lion of Judah”.) “Guitar”, the first single, is a mildly engaging mid-tempo rocker that proclaims love for the titular instrument. And that is followed with a sweet, jazzy ballad “Somewhere Here on Earth”.

The disc sort of ambles along amiably from there: there’s some sly rapping on the gently-bawdy “Mr. Goodnight”, a potent slice of funk with “Chelsea Rodgers”, and the lovely pop balladry of “All the Midnights in the World”. All in all, the 10 tracks entertain well enough but they don't really linger long once they've stopped playing.

It’s not a great CD but…well…it’s okay…

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Mark Ronson is a celebrated British DJ and producer…he produced tracks on Lily Allen’s delightful Alright, Still and half of the tracks on Amy Winehouse’s wondrous Back to Black…and here he steps into the spotlight with Version, the second CD released under his own name.

But Ronson doesn’t hog that spotlight, even though he plays a variety of roles on Version (guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, beats) he invites many of his friends to the party and is a very generous host. The disc is full of covers of songs (along with three short but punchy instrumental originals…“Inversion”, “Diversion”, and “Outversion”…interspersed along the way) remade into a dazzling, enormously entertaining, party-ready suite of R&B and dance-tinged hard pop.

The Daptone Horns kick things off on the right foot by guest-starring on the opening instrumental version of Coldplay’s “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” and the cool vibe continues into the playful take on the Kaiser Chiefs’ “Oh My God” with vocals by Lily Allen.

Daniel Merriweather takes the lead vocals on “Stop Me”, a medley of the Smiths’ “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before” and the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, which is fine enough while the only track that kind of drags in a cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” featuring Tiggers and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

The mighty Ms. Winehouse steps up and knocks the old school R&B jam version of “Valerie” (originally done by the Zutons) right out of the park. Paul Smith of Maximo Park comes on to remake the jagged rocker “Pressure” (originally by Maximo Park) as a percussive, horn-driven raver.

Santo Gold is featured on a version of The Jam’s “Pretty Green” that sounds like a long-lost cut from the days when the Talking Heads had recast themselves as a big funk band while Phantom Planet kicks into a sweet groove with their guest spot on the cover of Radiohead’s “Just”. Kenna is featured on a version of Ryan Adams’ “Amy” that sounds like a dance remix of a George Harrison song (and still it works :-)

Robbie Williams is the featured vocalist on a throbbing cover of the Charlatans’ “The Only One I Know” while Kasabian brings the party to funky close with a new mix of their own “L.S.F.”

With the horns sizzling, the singers giving their best shots, and the beats consistently strong and compelling, Ronson delivers a fun album that could keep any party jumping.

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More MKW Blogstuff: Bread and Roses